Seniors compete in finals of national STEM competition


Photo Contributed

Seniors Hope Mander, Ananya Balaji and Paige Merrill (left to right) speak at the Solve for Tomorrow competition.

Emmy Lockhart, Staff Writer.

Traveling to New York in hopes of lowering the number of distracted drivers in the Center Grove community, seniors Hope Mander, Paige Merrill and Ananya Balaji have traveled hundreds of miles away in hopes of placing as one of the top three groups in a STEM-based competition sponsored by Samsung. Previously winning Center Grove High School over $50,000 in Samsung tech, Mander, Merrill and Balaji worked together with Shirley Zheng, Maddie Siems and Shelby Walker in the “Solve for Tomorrow” competition, designing a prototype that demonstrates the creative and innovative side of the STEM field and earned the group a spot in the Samsung Alumni Network.

“The competition is a nationwide STEM competition that inspires students to create a product and bring it into early stages of prototyping over two months,” Siems said. “The top 100 finalists had to create the product and create a three minute long video to showcase their design. The top 10 now have to pitch their concept to a panel of judges as well as gain votes toward being selected as the community favorite.”

In November, they submitted a prototype idea that successfully made it to the next round of the competition. Working together, they have designed the Auto Focus, a device that uses eye tracking technology to alert the driver when their eyes have diverted from the road for a dangerous amount of time. Learning that they were a state finalist, the group began heavy research to decide on how the device would work in detail.

“We had to make a prototype along with a video that showcased our device, why we made it, and some interviews to give the viewers more information about why stopping distracted driving is important,” Mander said.

With their device, the group is working to lower the amount of car accidents in the Center Grove community and throughout the United States by ensuring that drivers who install the Auto Focus are not keeping their attention on anything lower than the dashboard or outside their windshield view for more than three seconds.

“After seeing our innovation on the news, various people and companies reached out and voiced their appreciation for our innovation,” Merrill said.

The team, along with nine other groups, won the title of national finalist. By becoming finalists, the team earned Center Grove High School a sum of $50,000, in addition to the $6,500 earned when they were titled state finalists after the first round of judging. This reward goes to fund the high school with Samsung technology and other classroom materials.

“From being a national finalist, we have the opportunity to fly to New York City to pitch our idea and become a national winner to possibly win $100,000. I think this competition and our results sheds more light on the opportunities that students like us have to make even just a small difference on the people around us,” Balaji said.

While the work to make this innovation come to life was divided up between the group members, the process of making the prototype was a cooperative effort.

“We all really worked together as a team to help get the best innovation possible,” Mander said. “Now that we made it into the national finalists, we are working more on our app software and fine tuning our device.”

Mander, Merrill and Balaji have arrived in New York as group representatives; there, they will pitch their idea for the Auto Focus to a panel of judges in hopes of making it into one of the three national finalist positions. By making it into the top three, the group would get to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with a state representative in Congress and talk to them both about their innovation and other community issues.

“I am hoping that this innovation will help the Center Grove Community see how much of an issue distracted driving can be and how they can help prevent it,” Mander said. 

With the use of the Auto Focus, the group hopes to make a difference in the Center Grove community through their participation in the “Solve for Tomorrow” competition.