By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- A group of young Londonderry inventors accomplished a longtime dream last week when they traveled to Phoenix to unveil the latest prototype of their SMARTwheel device to officials attending the national Lifesaver’s National Transportation Safety Conference.
Two members of the Inventioneers, a group of six home-schooled Londonderry children who have twice achieved world-champion status on the FIRST Lego League circuit, traveled to Arizona on March 27 to demonstrate the workings of the team’s patented invention. SMARTwheel, an acronym for Safe Motor Alert for Restricting Texting, is a steering wheel cover that senses the driver’s hand movements and issues an audible alert when the driver is sending text messages.
Earlier last month, team members Tristan “T.J.” Evarts, 15; Jaiden Evarts, 13; Bryeton Evarts, 10; Paige Balcom, 16; Emily Balcom, 14; and Kate Balcom, 13, demonstrated their invention during a March 24 visit to the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass., at the invitation of the center’s director, Robert Johns.
The Volpe Center is the hub of innovative transportation research, development and data collection for the U.S. Department of Transportation, with various worldwide projects under way.
During their visit to Cambridge, the Inventioneers presented their SMARTwheel anti-distracted driving device to both the center’s senior officials and top researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, outlined their “Don’t DUIT” student education program, and shared plans for integrating the SMARTwheel into driver training programs across the nation.
The team’s DUIT program, which stands for Driving Under the Influence of Texting, has already been presented to Robert Williams, state Transportation chairman.
The Volpe Center will be working with the Inventioneers on plans for a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) initiative.
MIT researchers are again partnering with the team to further develop the SMARTwheel’s electronics and help the team with their driving simulation, which is the key part of their plans for teen education.
Last week, team members Tristan “T.J.” Evarts and Paige Balcom offered a similar presentation to conference attendees in Arizona.
The Lifesavers’ Conference is the top transportation safety conference in the country and brought attendees from as far away as Samoa and Guam.
“Several people told us our presentation was their top pick of the day,” Evarts said this week. “They loved the educational resources we have developed and made available as free downloads on our website.”
“The consensus was that we had met with more of our nation’s leaders than most of the adults,” he added, noting that the team has already met President Obama and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, among others, in the last 5 months alone.
“It was great to be presenting along with the top transportation officials in the nation,” Balcom added. “Over 100 people from around the country and beyond attended our workshop. We have a unique perspective on how kids learn and people found our ideas refreshing.”
The Inventioneers plan to continue touring the country fighting against distracted driving and promoting safe driving habits.
Their next planned event is the New Hampshire Traffic Safety Conference, being held in Meredith later this month.