A tenth grade student from Nassau County became one of 41 finalists in the international Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge on Feb. 18. Scott Soifer, 15, of North Shore Hebrew Academy High School, placed in the Health and Nutrition category for his invention, the Vehicular Heatstroke Prevention System.
Designed to combat heatstroke deaths in cars, the VHPS detects life using a nondispersive infrared sensor for carbon dioxide and a micro-electro-mechanical system thermal sensor for temperature, Soifer said. When the device senses high cabin temperatures, through carbon dioxide from human respiration and changes in body temperature, it alerts caregivers and emergency personnel. Most importantly, it does something similar inventions were never designed to do: activate the vehicle’s air conditioner.
Nancy Conrad, the founder of the competition, said the panel looks for submissions that use existing technology as a blueprint and “this is exactly what Soifer’s invention does.”
After all, Soifer isn’t the only inventor tackling heatstroke in cars. Last October, San Jose-based inventor Marti McCurdy created “iRemind”, a car seat alarm notification system that costs $99.99 on Amazon. Soifer said he would sell VHPS for $150.
“When he chose to work on this heatstroke project, it was just amazing,” Felice Soifer, Scott’s mother, said. “Right now, in the market, there are products that are reminder systems, apps and devices to help parents not to forget about their babies in the car. Most of the devices just buzz, but what Scott’s does is that it actually cools down the vehicle itself to prevent heat stroke from happening.”
Twenty-three minors died from staying in overheated cars in the United States last year, according to Kids and Cars, a nonprofit child safety organization, and 47 percent of the average 37 deaths per year are unintentional. In Florida last month, Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto co-sponsored a state bill allowing Good Samaritans to break into overheated cars to save children and pets without liability.
A lifelong mechanical tinkler, Soifer reused some parts and bought others off eBay to make both his 3-D printer and VHPS.
“They say that you can 3-D print a 3-D printer,” Soifer said. Parts of his printer were made with another 3-D printer from school. The plastic boards used to hold up wires in the VHPS in turn were 3-D printed.
It cost about $400 to make the printer, Soifer said. He built it last January.
“When Scott built his own 3-D printer, I remember it was all these crazy pieces and in the middle of the night he talks to all these people from India and China,” Felice said. “He will always be on blogs, asking people questions, doing research. These are the things he loves.”
Under his school research director, Lisa Runco, Soifer has sent letters to senators and the president about a plan to have the VHPS installed in every car manufactured in the United States. As a finalist of the Conrad Challenge, he is now a 2016 Summit Diplomat who, according to the challenge’s founder, Nancy Conrad, will attend the annual Innovation Convention at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and have his system patented. Winners, she added, will also receive a free manuscript on advising them on marketing and further innovating their submissions.
“Anything electronic, Scott takes it apart very quickly,” Felice explained. “There’s nothing in our house that he has not touched.”
Today, Soifer is tweaking a replacement walking stick, a box that vibrates when it senses an object or sudden drop ahead. The device is three times the size of a smartphone.
“Scott has this ability to see things spatially that I cannot see and cannot understand,” said Todd. “Sometimes I just wonder where does he get all these ideas from. He finds things that really has a purpose that can help people.”
“I tell my mom not to call the electrician or plumber anymore,” Soifer said.