MARTINSBURG – Four years ago Parker Gregg’s father died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a moving car. Since then, the teenager has made it his mission to make sure that the same fate couldn’t happen to someone else.
Now, with a patent in hand, his vision of a small carbon monoxide detector that could temporarily deactivate a vehicle if dangerous levels are reached has been realized.
When he first came up with the idea, Gregg immediately knew who he should talk to – a longtime friend, classmate, and handyman Cayden Wright.
“I was like, ‘What if I could prevent this from happening with the carbon monoxide detector? “” Gregg said he asked Wright. “He was like, ‘This might work. And then we just ran with it.
And that’s what they did, all the way to the United States Patent Office, where their device, Air Alert, was patented on November 23.
However, the road leading up to this moment has not always been easy, the seniors at Central High School said.
The couple were still in college at the time and working on the device in their spare time. Wright said it took about six months to get the right design right.
Wright said he spent a lot of time watching tutorials online to figure out how to build a device.
“It just started, we had buttons connected to lights just to figure out the logic of what Parker had come up with. “ Wright said.
The first version included a tilt sensor because they believed there might be issues if, for example, the vehicle got stuck behind a large diesel truck in traffic, Wright said. However, after rudimentary testing, the pair found this to be no problem and wiped out the feature altogether.
“There is a lot of trial and error” Wright said. “You make a first prototype, then you make another and another and another. “
They also discovered that the first prototype gave off a lot of heat and needed a way to extract excess heat from a mechanical device.
“There were inefficiencies in the way we fed all of our circuits with energy so I found out that we needed to reduce this heat factor so that we could both touch it and it didn’t burn things down.” Wright said.
The pair agreed that working this out was frustrating at times.
“Sitting until 11 am trying to fix this stupid problem and you just wanna stop sometimes” Wright said.
It was this modified version of Air Alert that earned Gregg and Wright second place at the Pennsylvania Technology Student Association’s Region 8 conference in 2018, even after forgetting they needed a billboard. for the contest.
According to Gregg, Wright texted him around 10 a.m. the day before the regional.
“I was like ‘Bud we need a notice board for tomorrow’ Wright said.
Everything went well, but they said their billboard was very basic.
The duo won third place with Air Alert in the Inventions and Innovations category at the Pennsylvania Technology Student Association State Conference in 2018.
“The competition allowed us to do all of this and then help us improve the design” Wright said.
The two agreed that they believed the odds were stacked against them at the state conference. For starters, they didn’t know they needed three people on a team.
According to Wright, they recruited a friend just to “Sit there and be pretty.” “
After celebrating their third place in the state competition, Gregg and Wright began work on a more streamlined prototype that they would eventually bring to the TSA National Conference.
It turned out to be a bit bigger, but performed a lot better, Wright said, adding that the updated version is more reliable, gives off less heat, and can be repaired more easily.
The device can fit anywhere in a vehicle, as long as the wires can be connected to anything that needs to be controlled, such as the engine control unit or the vehicle’s fuel pump, Wright said. .
Once installed in a vehicle, Air Alert is always activated. If any of its sensors start to detect carbon monoxide, it beeps and then shuts down the vehicle’s engine.
There are two sensors, one inside the vehicle and one outside, Wright said.
Safety was the # 1 priority when it came to developing Air Alert, so Gregg and Wright want alarms to go off at 400 parts per million, which is when most people will start to go. have a headache from exposure to carbon monoxide. Then at 800 parts per million – when there would be about two hours of exposure until the operator passed out – the car would be deactivated.
“Someone would have plenty of time to clear the area and also leave a little leeway for any technical errors,” he added. Wright said. “We didn’t want to put it too close to the death line in case something went wrong and stuck out a bit.”
Costing around $ 25 to create, the pair’s ultimate goal is to have the device on as many engines as possible in order to save the most lives.
“If ever we were to switch to mass production, it will become cheaper to manufacture a batch”, Wright added.
With their updated device in hand, the two eagerly awaited the TSA’s national conference, but their club advisor resigned ahead of the competition.
Thanks to the support of school administrators, teachers and their parents, they went to the competition.
“Much of the support came from our parents” Gregg said. “They booked the flights, mostly they paid for everything we had to do. “
Having learned of their previous billboard snafu, they made three for the nationals to take with them to Atlanta. One, they sent by mail, that arrived “Mutilated”, according to Gregg. Another, the airline allowed them to hide in the closet of the plane on the way down. The last one they sent with the team from Bedford Area High School, who got off a truck and offered to haul supplies for them.
“It was stressful” Wright said about checking in at the airport. “We sent my dad in a backpack with the device. We said to ourselves that if we were going to get arrested, this would be it.
Despite their concerns, the couple made it to Atlanta safely.
Once at the national championships, the two said the competition was tough.
“It was crazy to only see the high schools that were there”, Wright said. “They were mega high schools with all kinds of equipment, people and mentors at their disposal.”
There were even exchange students from Turkey and Germany presenting their inventions.
The couple said they were faced with entrances that included a magnetic shirt that would make it easier for people with neurological disorders to get dressed and an anchored platform to park a vehicle on which flood water could detect and stand. inflate to raise and protect the vehicle.
Despite their concerns, the invention of Gregg and Wright took first place nationally.
“We were faced with many high caliber ideas”, Wright said. “The odds were really against us. “
“It just shows that it’s not what you have, it’s the way you use it” he added.
While competing and tinkering with the final design, the duo also worked hard to patent the device. It took about six months to design Air Alert, they said, but patenting it took almost three years.
Contrary to popular belief, a patent doesn’t have to be for something that actually works, Wright said.
The device they patented works, but not as well as it could, Wright said. Their current business model is to license the patent to a company that would develop the device at its own expense, rather than doing the development work itself.
“Especially as we head into college, we just wouldn’t have time to do it with all of our classes and so on,” Wright said.
Although ideally they would like to be paid for their work, they said they were never there for the money.
“Parker’s father, we mainly did it for him” Wright said. “Parker’s father was a loss not only to him, but to everyone else. He was really missed by our basketball team and everyone in the community, so it was a service to the community in creating this, not just to Parker and his family.
Throughout the project and patenting it was entirely a two-man operation.
“We really couldn’t have done it without each other” Wright said.
As they look to the future after graduation, Wright plans to attend college and major in computer science or a related field. In his spare time, he runs cross-country, plays volleyball and continues to develop other projects.
Gregg said he still celebrates setting a state record with the Central High School football team, but next year he plans to go to college and study biology. or kinesiology to become a chiropractor.
Gregg said he’s sure his father would be proud of him – and Wright – not just for creating the device, but for how much they’ve grown over the years.
“I’m sure he would” Gregg said. “Even if we didn’t do something like this I’m sure he would be proud.”