Senate, WV BoE Celebrate GEHS InvenTeam Work, Caving Device

LEWISBURG (WVDN) — Less than two days after the Greenbrier East High School InvenTeam traveled to Charleston to be celebrated by multiple state institutions, the team was already back to work on their MIT-grant winning engineering project.

In 2021, the InvenTeam won a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Those grant funds are meant to help students develop new technologies, new patents, and new opportunities. Only eight of the over 100 high school teams that applied took home a grant award. The West Virginia Board of Education and West Virginia Senate both hosted the team last week to celebrate the win.

Greenbrier East’s winning idea would help cavers and rescuers. The students are designing transponders which would serve as reference points in a rough 3D map inside of a cave. This would allow cavers and potential rescuers to know approximately where they are inside the cave. So far, the team has done initial testing in Lost World Caverns.

The team’s engineering teacher, Kevin Warfield, told The Daily News “when we go to [present at MIT in June], we mainly have to have proof of concept and a working prototype. We’re there, we’re just fine tuning some things now.”

The InvenTeam works.

When The West Virginia Daily News arrived at Greenbrier East High School on Friday, February 11, the team was sketching, drawing, grabbing parts and wires, attaching and reattaching, with ample discussion going on between members.

“The [caver] transponders themselves, breadcrumbs as we’re calling them, [should be] be relatively small,” explained Jake McGilvray. “Right now, we’re still testing batteries. Essentially, we’re trying to use nine-volt batteries [for the device], because obviously we want this to be rechargeable. It wouldn’t be much use if it was one-time use. [The team is] trying to figure out how to attach the nine volts to the micro bits.”

“Micro bits are essentially just really small computer chips,” Cole Snyder further explained. “It could never run anything like Windows, but it can run basic code and operations. If we only have it doing one small thing, which in this case is sending data, then it doesn’t need to be big and it doesn’t need to consume a ton of power. With the same battery that’s in a phone, just like this, … you can run a micro bit at full power for, like 20 days. Essentially what we could do [is] you could speak into [another computer in the device], and it would relay your speech all the way back to the surface, [through the micro bits]. You can put a cellular module on [the surface] that would reach out to 911.”

This was just one of the team’s unfolding projects. On the other side of the table, Kendra Culyer drew potential designs for the case to hold the micro bits, battery, and everything else inside.

“Getting a solid design may be a minute,” McGilvray said. “It’s just a matter of when we can get a working model and prototype going. I would love to have a manufacturer make it look professional, more solid. [Right now, we are going for] just the working model in general.”

Another crew of two or three students were looking to cut wire connecting boards to a smaller size.

“Right now, we are just trying to get two computer chips to talk to each other, basically, and run lights,” explained Gabe Coleman. “Wednesday we managed to get all the computer chips to send radio signals to each other and blink [together]. That was fun.”

Even as they’re fine tuning the current design, the team is also looking to build on the first prototype.

“We were working on adding a couple of very exciting features, such as step tracking in the cave, as well as voice activation system among the micro bits,” said Evan Vaughan. “[That would allow the device to] detect loud sounds and actually ask you questions like, if you’re okay. It’ll send signals back throughout the cave, back up to the surface unit, it’ll actually alert paramedics, and send SOS signals.”

The Inventeam’s current presentation allowed both the West Virginia Senate and West Virginia Board of Education to get a look into what the team is doing.

“The State Board and the Senate treated us great,” Warfield said. “The kids went in, did their presentation at the state board. That was their first major outing promoting this. The state board is very receptive. Lemelson MIT watched the presentation on [Microsoft Teams], so we got instant feedback from them. We had an hour to go to the Senate with then Senator Baldwin. We received a proclamation. He read all the kids’ names on the Senate floor.”

“It was very exciting,” McGilvray said. “Getting recognized for all the hard work put into our project [was a] very cool experience for us and our team. I really enjoyed it. The people at the state board, the board members, they were great. They gave us some really, really awesome feedback. Senator [Stephen] Baldwin, he was amazing as well, inviting us there.”

InvenTeam and Senator Stephen Baldwin

Baldwin, Greenbrier County Schools, and the West Virginia Department of Education each celebrated the team’s visit on social media.

The Team at the West Virginia Board of Education.

McGilvray also celebrated the team, highlighting why he thinks it’s successful.

“I believe we have one of the larger teams, which I believe is part of our strong suit,” McGilvray said. “[Nobody] is the expert on everything. Earlier I had Cole [Snyder] come talk [about the micro bits because] he knows it off the top of his head, whereas I know the general information. Same thing with the media team. They’re very good at social media outreach. Same as Evan and Ian on sustainability – they’ve been doing as much research as they can so that our project is sustainably certified. [Nevaeh Wooding] is doing financials. [Gabe Coleman has] done major bounds on coding, he’s made a majority of it. … It’s just a team project. Essentially, having a larger team itself, just makes things go smoother.”

Jake McGilvray

“These guys are incredible,” said Warfield. “They’ve been working on this since probably last March. We had to go through the grants and the application process. We went from 100 plus schools applying, to the top 27, and then were the final eight. I feel really excited for these kids because it’s a once in a lifetime. Through their high school career, they can only do it once. … This team is really a tight team because we’ve had to deal with COVID. They’ve hung together, [with] all the fun parts of being a team, like the inside jokes. … They’ve got a next man up, in case somebody is out. … We’re trying to keep everybody involved.”

Kevin Warfield

The team will present the device to Eurekafest in Cambridge, MA, on the campus of MIT, in June. After the presentation, they will run a four-hour trade show booth for the industry.

For more on the initial grant award, see The West Virginia Daily News online by searching“GEHS Engineers Win MIT Grant with Caver Mapping Idea” or enter “wvdn.com/22336” as the url.

Anyone interested in the device can see it when the team holds a technical review on March 3 at 5 p.m. at the Underwood Building at the State Fairgrounds. The InvenTeam can also be found on Facebook at “Greenbrier East InvenTeam.”

The team is also seeking donations to get the entire team to MIT in the summer. Those looking for help can at gofund.me/aebd8b5b.

The upcoming demonstration.
The West Virginia Senate resolution.

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