When Katie Giardino’s children cry, she cannot hear them.
This is just one of the many challenges she faces as a hearing-impaired mother of two. And with another baby on the way, the problem seems more pressing than ever.
When it came time for Caleb Carpenter to address a humanitarian issue in his engineering design and development class at Niskayuna High School, he thought of Giardino, a family friend.
He wanted to help develop a device that solves one of the many issues hearing-impaired parents face: knowing when their baby is crying, especially in the middle of the night. “I have them look into humanitarian needs,” explained Rich DeSimony, who teaches the class. “And what that does is, it makes them find a problem that does not immediately relate to them.”
The nine seniors in the class developed products to solve problems similar to Giardino’s. The final projects were displayed Monday at Niskayuna High School.
Carpenter’s group, working with Peter Borger and Jake Ronesi, designed a baby monitor for the hearing-impaired, which alerts the parent when the child cries.
Parents can wear the device, which resembles a watch, on their wrist.
“[Giardino] had a major problem at night sleeping because you don’t know if the baby is crying or not or needs help,” Borger said. “So we designed this prototype and basically it takes different sounds from a cry that an adult wouldn’t have and filters them through.”
The device is able to tell the difference between various sounds because each noise a baby or adult makes has a different pitch, Borger explained. Even a cry and a laugh from the same baby have different sounding pitches, which makes them more identifiable for a device trying to tell the difference between them.
The group recorded and analyzed different sounds a baby makes and were able to find the frequency of the pitch a baby makes when it cries. When their device detects the crying frequency, it sends a message to the wrist device, which vibrates and blinks red when the baby is crying or blinks yellow when the baby laughs or talks. The sounds are delivered to the device via a regular baby monitor.
The group displayed a video interview with Giardino on an iPad at their exhibit, in which she explains that sometimes no noise at all from a child alerts a parent something is wrong, too. But Giardino does not have the ability to tell the difference between silence and noise, so a device like this one helps solve both issues. When there is no red or yellow light blinking on the device, that notifies Giardino of the silence.
Most of the student teams consulted people who would use their product before and during development. Giardino helped Carpenter’s group understand what products for this issue already exist and what aspects of those products do not work.
“She loved it,” Borger said. “She said she would buy one if we built it.”
Carpenter added: “She said it would be something she would love to use.”
Although the students had the entire school year to develop their products, many of them worked up until the last few hours before it was due.
“It was difficult,” Carpenter said. “It was a lot of work.”
Each group had a display set up describing their product alongside an actual prototype at the event. Family, friends and teachers were invited to test out the products.
Josh Sanzo and Gavin Dowse, another one of the teams, created a product for the visually impaired.
“When an independent blind person has to take off their jacket, take off their coat, their backpacks … they have to put their cane down,” Sanzo said. “Or they have to break it down or lean it up against the wall.”
Sanzo said this can be dangerous. When visually impaired people put down their cane they run the risk of being knocked over, losing their cane and possibly even being injured trying to find it. This inspired the pair to create a product they named Cstand, a cane that can stand up in place.
“We wanted to advance the technology of those who are visually impaired and or blind — much, much further than they already have,” Dowse said. “We wanted to take it and we wanted to move it a step further … and we thought if we can make them more mobile being visually impaired, more independent, more able to do their own things, it would be a lot more helpful for them. We wanted to help people. Improve their way of life.”
All of the projects the students developed required engineering skills they learned over the years in other technology classes offered at Niskayuna. Students had six prerequisites for the course.
“This year I am really, really proud of the teams,” DeSimony said. “I have never had all the groups really hit so many things that were out of their comfort zone.”
The other two groups also developed products that focus on helping improve the standard of living. One developed a tool that makes it easier for those who have difficulty getting around, specifically getting up and down stairs. Group members said they thought of their grandparents while developing this product.
The device hooks onto a railing, sort of like a handle. It gives the mobility-impaired individual something to grasp onto while traveling up or down. They can place their weight on this product while it moves with them.
The final group created a more humane way to hunt animals. They developed an arrow with a GPS tracking device on it. The idea is that the animal that is shot with the arrow is tracked faster than ever before, ensuring it suffers less and is not left to die or never found at all.
DeSimony said the issues solved and the products developed this year were not necessarily issues a normal high school senior thinks about and he is proud of his students for coming up with these problems and solutions on their own.
“These are some pretty grown-up topics,” he said. “They came out fantastic.”
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