CONCORD- You wouldn’t think a group of middle school students could create a groundbreaking invention that could save the world billions of gallons of water. But that’s just what the Brainy Yaks Robotics Team from Cannon School did.
The team recently presented its invention, The Aqua Switch, during a Fire Lego League tournament which required participants to produce a research product with a water theme. The Brainy Yaks chose to focus on water conservation and won first place in innovative design.
“The idea started when we were all trying to find out a research idea. We were thinking of ideas and researching them, like problems with human interaction and water,” team member Max Murash said. “We found out that showers were wasting by the cold water coming out.”
The team discovered that every minute a shower takes to heat up, 2.1 gallons of water is wasted. The students added that the average time it takes for a shower to warm up to the desired temperature is 72 seconds, which means the wasting of 2.5 gallons.
The team’s solution was a temperature sensor that switches the direction of the water. If the water is below the person’s desired temperature then a ball valve is open letting water flow into the reservoir.
The water that runs into the reservoir can then be used for anything that doesn’t require warm water such as watering plants or flushing the toilet.
When the water gets to the desired temperature, the cold valve closes and the warm valve opens, allowing water to come through the shower head.
It took the team about a month to create the invention; researching, talking to engineers, the facility director at their school and a representative from the Cabarrus Soil and Water Conservation.
They showed each of these groups their project presentation and got some great feedback. The students said they also spoke with individuals who help startup companies and did some research into patents.
With their product finally complete, team member Nathan Campbell said it felt fantastic to showcase it during the tournament.
“It feels really good. Every year there is a new theme and it’s hard to get a really good idea because of the time crunch, but also to get one that actually works,” Campbell said. “A lot of people in these competitions have these really good ideas, but it’s just so hard to make these good ideas into realities. So it does feel really good that we actually got something to show for it.”
Leigh Northrup, dean of innovation and technology, said the students have looked into a possible business model for this and what it would cost to produce it for the average consumer.
The current prototype includes about $50 of materials, which the team said is a little expensive for their tastes. But they are confident they could shrink down all the parts and get the number down to $10-$15 for production, meaning they would sell it for about $30.
But even if they don’t make millions the team said the most important part of the process wasn’t the win, but what they learned along the way.
“We have to take a step back and realize that one of the core values is basically what we learned is more important than what we win,” Campbell said. “So all these awards do seem great, but also we should take a step back and say we found out that all this stuff is impacting everyone. They are getting impacted everywhere and we fixed that problem.”