Over the past two years, students at Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles have worked tirelessly to plan, design, and create a fire embers detection system that activates a sprinkler system during wildfires and dilutes a house or building threatened by fire miles away. .
It is common knowledge that California has been plagued by wildfires that have burned thousands of acres, destroyed and threatened many homes and businesses, and claimed lives.
And it’s not just the looming firewall that engulfs homes, forests, and wildlife, but also the embers that move away from the initial blaze.
The students’ prototype invention, dubbed Hydra, received a $ 10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT program.
If ever brought to market, it could have a serious impact and peace of mind for landowners forced to evacuate the threat of raging fires and it is thought-provoking as California faces another season. very dry and potentially dangerous fires.
The students’ invention, named after a multi-headed serpentine Greek mythological aquatic monster, was inspired by the deadly Getty fire in 2019 that burned a few miles from the school, forcing it to close twice .
But bringing the idea of the prototype to fruition during the pandemic months presented many hurdles, as the students were isolated at home and unable to work face to face in a true engineering environment while juggling their academic curriculum. based.
The whole project, drawn from the integrated science, technology, engineering and math courses, was handled remotely until just a few weeks ago, when the students returned to campus, which presented a whole different set of obstacles.
“Our biggest challenge this year, especially with the pandemic, has really been bringing the team together and working even though we are apart,” said Gabriela Ayala, senior graduate and team captain. “Engineering and invention are really about working together in a room, around a table and on discussion. But you can see how much more difficult it can be on the internet. It was an obstacle. “
Ayala, who is heading to Smith College in the fall as a liberal arts major and would participate in yet another round of invention planning in the blink of an eye, kept the process environment among her peers encouraging and valued. all opinions, regardless of their age.
“I found that when I was in first year, older students encouraged our opinion and valued our voices at decision tables,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, but I think the key to really bringing our team together has really been making sure everyone’s voice is valid. “
Archer’s “InvenTeam” was one of 13 national teams encouraged to develop technological solutions to real-world problems of their choice and which will be recognized on June 15 during the virtual “EurekaFest”.
Archer was the only school in the Los Angeles area this year to win a scholarship. It was their second victory out of three attempts and one of the few schools to repeat that honor.
In recent years, a team from northern California in the Sierra Mountains has won a grant for an invention that removes brush that can become fuel for wildfires.
Rights to InvenTeam ideas belong to student teams, not MIT
“MIT InvenTeams are very focused on technological inventions ranging from great ideas to working prototypes,” said Tony Perry, MIT School of Engineering’s Invention Education Coordinator, Lemelson-MIT Program. “From the school’s point of view, that’s all the school wants to do with the prototype invention. We don’t claim any intellectual property, so if they wanted to start a business, or if they wanted to file patents themselves, they would be welcome to do so.
What cemented the victory of the 42-member Archer Project was that it solved a real problem for real people in their community.
“They have really strong teachers and a great tech support community to be able to do this job during the pandemic,” Perry said. “It’s really so impressive how they were able to do it with social distancing and all that. In their application, you could just see that they had a strong passion to make a difference in their community.
Mike Carter, engineering and design coordinator at the Archer School for Girls, said the biggest administrative challenge was getting the project off the ground given the COVID-19 mandated restrictions.
“It was an interesting conundrum to have the students remotely by Zoom,” Carter said. “We had to order multiple copies of the same item so that different students could work on it simultaneously. On Zoom, they were demonstrating (Hydra) while other students watched and sent them measurements. Another student may have had the exact same device and they were demonstrating theirs and controlling the electronics.
The 18 inch square ember sensing water spray hydra has multiple heads and a nozzle that moves back and forth, rotates 360 degrees, and moves up and down.
It has four fixed nozzles that fan spray into the corners.
When embers are detected, they can be knocked down with the movable nozzle.
A second layer of defense is sprayed by the fan.
“It’s a modified lawn sprinkler that puts out that flat spray and you can also use it to soak the roof if the fire comes in and you can defend yourself in advance… knock down those embers that usually fly for miles before the fire. fire, ”Carter said, adding that it uses infrared cameras and can draw water from swimming pools or reservoirs if the main water pressure drops.
But Hydra has its limits.
“It needs power, so the students designed it with a battery back-up that keeps it somewhat without power and it can also connect to an uninterrupted power supply,” Carter said. “(The students) are trying to make it robust, not only so that they can detect if the water pressure is dropping and change the source if available, but the user can use a phone app that the students have written for it. . “
Students’ interest in fire prevention increased because their school was closed twice due to forest fires and some family and friends were affected.
It was personal.
They wanted to have an idea that would bring peace of mind, especially to evacuees.
“They wanted a system that would not only monitor the house looking at the camera using the app but also defend their house especially when the firefighters are stretched so thin and also prevent people from standing on their roofs. with sprinklers, which is a huge nuisance to firefighters, ”Carter said.