As the end of the school year has turned way to summer, most high school students are sleeping in, playing Fortnite and preparing for family vacations.

Not a group of South Fayette STEM team members, though, as five students will try to take their recent invention to market.

Rising senior Prateek Jukalkar and rising juniors Pranav Dantu, Parv Shrivastava, Swathi Senthil and Suraj Bokil invented a phone application and a car mount to decrease texting and driving. The students won the Pennsylvania Governor’s STEM Competition and then went to the Bay Area Maker Faire in May.

“We’ve all had the experience of being in a car with someone texting and driving or people on the road doing it, and accidents can happen,” Dantu said. “There was a passion we had with this issue.”

Every year, a group of South Fayette students and the school’s STEM club advisor Jim Hausman come up with an invention to help Pennsylvanians, which is the goal of the STEM competition at Thaddeus Stevens College in Lancaster. Last year, students created an app to improve the grocery shopping experience and a device to help curb the opioid epidemic by keeping prescription pain medicine secure.

This year’s team made an app that incentivizes driving without using a phone. The students created a cradle to insert the phone and coded it to automatically open the app once the iPhone or Android device slides in. The app will then start logging how far the car drives and will then rack up rewards for the driver.

“This was the biggest problem that we could solve, and we thought of a really good solution that we could do,” Shrivastava said.

The goal is to recondition drivers to not text and drive by giving them coupons to businesses, money off car insurance or other possible business ventures the team is still in the process of determining. As of now, the rewards in the prototype are all imaginary.

“There are other apps that have rewards programs, but they’re all quickly disabled by going into your menu or settings,” Hausman said. “You can’t do it with this, because once you take it out of the cradle, it shuts the app down.”

The five-student team coded more than 1,000 lines of Javascript, utilized 3-D printers and fabrication machines and put in several hundred hours of work altogether to create the app and cradle. The team won “Most Likely to Become an App” at the PA Governor’s STEM Competition.

“We created the product using 3-D printers at school,” Shrivastava said. “We also embedded a few smart features, including a push/play button for music and a simple navigation feature. We wanted to make it really easy for the driver to use and safe as well.”

After the competition, the team jetted off to California for the Maker Faire. Dantu said the experience opened his eyes to the amount of making going on all over the world.

“That was definitely a great experience,” he said. “Seeing all the different products and presenting was cool. We got to see different presentations and see other students and what they’re doing to better their communities, too.”

“I like the atmosphere there,” Senthil said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I went, but it was all open and everyone was having a good time.”

As an educator, Hausman said it’s rewarding to see the students learn and become inspired at the Maker Faire.

“It’s awesome to see them get lost in the different things that are produced there and to see the joy on their faces,” he said, “For them to find things that interest them and with their energy about those things makes me see that this is the start of bigger things.”

The group is now working on obtaining a patent for the idea and the cradle as well as meeting with local businesses to create a rewards system. The team wants to add voice controls to the app and ultimately find someone to invest in the product.

“We definitely want to make our product more defined and go to market,” Shrivastava said.

Staff Writer

Jacob Calvin Meyer works as a staff writer for both The Almanac and the Observer-Reporter, where he covers news and sports. Jacob, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, graduated from Waynesburg University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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