An Ann Arbor teen's invention aiming to prevent fatal police shootings of deaf people has won a national award.
Seventeen-year-old Skyline High School graduate Sarah Whybark won the "Best Logbook" award at the June 1 National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE), held at Henry Ford Museum, for her invention called ASSIST. She was one of 437 student inventors from 20 states and two countries participating in the convention produced by The STEMIE Coalition, a nonprofit founded to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), invention, and entrepreneurship education.
ASSIST is a bracelet for deaf people that blinks when police are around, alerting the police to a deaf citizen while also alerting the deaf person to law enforcement officials' presence. The idea was originally conceived by another student in Whybark's engineering class at Skyline. But that student moved on to another idea and let Whybark develop ASSIST.
"Growing up in elementary school, I had a few friends who were deaf," Whybark says. "I wanted to help a minority group that often gets overlooked, and I remembered a while back there was a story about a man who was shot and killed in Oklahoma because he was unable to hear and understand the police who were confronting him."
That initial concept became Whybark's school year capstone project and her NICEE entry. Whybark says the "Best Logbook" award means that she maintained excellent documentation and organization throughout her project, including documenting ideas that she abandoned.
Currently, she says the bracelet is made of "a garage weather strip, Velcro, duct tape, and hot glue." But she has plans to develop it further by collaborating with engineers and coders and eventually patenting her idea.
"Once I get a working prototype, I plan to reach out to the people and organizations that I have already met and who have taken interest in this idea," she says. "After I have it functioning and supported, I will bring the idea to the police and those who are on the other side of this public safety issue right now."
She also hopes to add a feature alerting deaf drivers to an approaching emergency response vehicle. Beyond the ASSIST project, Whybark's future plans include attending Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. and becoming an elementary teacher for students with special needs.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of the STEMIE Coalition/KMS Photography.