Gearing up for the next invention convention
By Jill Dion
Arshaq Ahmed, a seventh grader at West Shore Middle School, is already thinking about what he would like to create for the next Milford Invention Convention.
Arshaq, 12, came in third at the national level of the competition earlier this year, when he was a sixth grader, with his Radio Med Box, a tracking device that uses HAM radio frequency in a medical box to track missing people in regions without cell phone service.
He isn’t sure exactly what his next invention might be: He may work on perfecting the Radio Med Box with the hopes of making it a truly marketable product.
Arshaq was on vacation with his family when he came up with the idea for the Radio Med Box. He was in a hotel room, watching television, when he saw a piece about a man who got lost in the wilderness and suffered frostbite. Arshaq envisioned a device that would send out the location of a person who was lost, like a skier or a hiker in a vast forest.
It was when he went to an event with his younger siblings at the Milford Bank, where his mother works, for a HAM radio chat with Santa that he made the HAM radio connection and figured that the radio technology could work with his invention.
A HAM radio is too large to be a handheld emergency device, so Arshaq decided to use just the necessary components: a transmitter, which sends signal, an antenna, and AA batteries.
His device works where a cell phone would not because, unlike a cell phone that needs a cell tower to get its message out, the HAM radio bounces signals off the ionosphere, Arshaq explained.
He bought the parts he needed online, along with a small rectangular container to hold the device. He thought about creating a waterproof product, but that would have put him over budget: He could spend only $50 on parts. He spent about $40, and says that if the device was to go to market he would sell it for about $65, noting that he would get production costs down with larger-scale production.
His invention also comes with a plastic bag that contains a thermal blanket, wipes, antiseptic and hooks for the antenna.
Arshaq said competing in the invention convention is like being on Shark Tank, the ABC program where inventors pitch their creations in hopes of securing funding to bring their ideas to market or to expand their market presence or production. As in Shark Tank where the inventor has to answer tough questions from the program’s panel of business professionals, at the convention, the student has to answer tough questions from the judges.
“Nationals is where you learn all about the business,” Arshaq said. “As you go through it you get a better idea of what they will ask, so experience is key.”
Arshaq gained a lot of experience with his trial and error production of the medical kit. He got help from people in the community, including a member of an area amateur radio club. He was at the Woodmont Borough Hall when he first tested his creation: He flicked the switch on his device and then saw a signal light up on his iPad, indicating a HAM radio site had picked up his signal.
“I was excited,” he said.
But later he tried it at home and it didn’t work. Rather than get upset, he figured out that the wire he used in the device had moved, breaking the circuit, and that’s when he decided that he needed to add foam packing to keep the components in place.
Arshaq is the son of Tasneem and Humera Ahmed, and he has two siblings, Ayaan, 9, and Arisha, 8, who go to Meadowside School. They were with him at the the National Invention Convention at The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Mich., on June 1.
Several other students from Milford took part in that National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo. The others from Milford included Sai Vipparla, then an 11th grader, who won a Patent Application Award for Petsthetic, a 3-D printed, customizable pet prosthetic; Rachna Vipparla, then a ninth grader, who was awarded second place for Alz-Aid, a music therapy device that decreases restlessness and wandering for those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia; and Arya Bairat, then a 10th grader, who received third place for EES Sustineri, which uses paint-on fabrication techniques and various materials to store and generate energy.
The Milford Invention Convention
The Milford Education Foundation has been hosting the Milford Invention Convention for five years, feeding into the state and national conventions. The next Milford Invention Convention is Saturday, March 23, at 10 a.m., at Jonathan Law High School.
About eight Milford students have made it to the national level in the past five years, with some repeats and including online submissions, according to Augie Harrigan, a Milford Education Foundation vice president. Also, several other Milford students have made it to finals through their out-of-district schools.
West Shore graduate Nihitha Kothapalli, now a student at Jonathan Law High School, was a finalist at the Milford Invention Convention for each of the past five years and also went to the National Invention Convention two years running. Her sister, Harshitha Kothapalli, who qualified for and competed at the national convention earlier this year, in addition to the other Milford students, was a fourth grader at JFK and her invention was Rx-Crutches, safe crutches with a built-in seat, lights, sound and a pouch.
“When we first started out in 2014, we had about two dozen competitors who came through the Boys & Girls Club and the Milford Public Library workshop program Milford Education Foundation created,” Harrigan said. “[Former School Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Feser] and then assistant superintendent Mike Cummings were judges and were so happy to see us bringing this back — it used to be part of middle school curriculum — that they offered to make it part of the sixth grade enrichment experience for all three middle schools. In addition, the middle schools have offered it as an after-school club, getting all learners ready to compete. After being away for the past few years, the Boys & Girls Club is back for the 2019 Milford Invention Convention.”
Harrigan said parents can start working with their children on ideas for the invention convention. “But to compete at [the Milford Invention Convention], we’ll still need them to register and that site probably won’t be up until January,” Harrigan said. “We’ll post more specific info on the Milford Education Foundation website, but parents can look to the Connecticut Invention Convention site for general info.”
That site is ctinventionconvention.org.
Students in grades 6-8 interested in participating should ask about their respective middle school’s after-school program.
“This year, the Connecticut Invention Convention has cut out the regional finals as a qualifier for UConn,” Harrigan said. “So any finalists chosen at the 2019 Milford Invention Convention will advance to state.”
The Milford Education Foundation fully funds the Milford Invention Convention. The group also covers registration fees for all finalists to attend the Connecticut Invention Convention at UConn.
The Milford Invention Convention is for grades K-8; however, state and national-level competitions now go through high school.
“While I recently reached out to Law and Foran for advice on how we can cultivate expansion, we don’t have a plan yet,” Harrigan said. “If we get at least half a dozen ninth to 12th graders who want to participate, we could conceivably do this in March.”