Hillsboro students reach final round of 'clean tech' competition
Two Hillsboro high-schoolers interested in using their computer programming skills to tackle the world's sustainability problems recently made it to the final round of an international clean technology competition for youth.
Ishaan Sinha and Zane Othman-Gomez, rising juniors at Glencoe High School and Liberty High School, respectively, spent weeks developing and programming a refrigerator camera designed to help people reduce food waste.
Although they didn't take home the $10,000 first-place prize or place in the top three of the competition, Sinha and Othman-Gomez say the project was a good way to occupy their time during the pandemic, and they hope to continue using their knowledge of tech and entrepreneurship to solve the world's biggest problems.
Sinha and Othman-Gomez presented their device to judges Thursday, Aug. 6, at the Spellman HV Clean Tech Competition, which took place virtually this year due to the coronavirus.
The competition invites students to develop green technologies that help the world address health, environmental and energy challenges. The competition is organized by multiple organizations, including New York-based company Spellman HV Electronics, to encourage students to pursue STEM careers.
Sinha and Othman-Gomez competed in the "Abundant Resources" category, which directed students to develop resource conservation technologies for people in the developed world.
Out of 744 students making up 395 teams from across the United States, as well as Canada, India, Singapore and the Philippines, the duo of Sinha and Othman-Gomez was among the 20 teams that made it to the final round.
"We put in hundreds of hours on this project," Sinha said. "It was an incredible learning experience."
Othman-Gomez said he calculated the team put in more than 300 hours working on the project.
Their device, called "Food Track," uses a camera to identify foods with different expirations, track how long items have been in the refrigerator, and monitor whether items are at risk of perishing because they've been outside of the refrigerator too long.
The device warns people their food might expire on a smartphone app.
Although there are a few similar products already on the market, the students say their product requires far less user input and would be cheaper. They also improved existing code for such products by making their device learn to more accurately identify items, they said.
"Forgetting to put food back in the refrigerator is one of the biggest ways we waste food," Sinha says in a video the students produced about their product.
"In the U.S., 40-50% of all food wasted happens at the household level," Othman-Gomez adds.
The students, who have been interested in computer programming for years and have competed in robotics competitions, initially thought they might address water waste with their project. But they pivoted when they realized how many products there are that seek to reduce water waste.
The first-place winner of the competition, a student from Colorado who developed a technology making solar photovoltaic cells more efficient, also received a mentor to help bring the product to market.
Sinha and Othman-Gomez say they too will still try to bring their product to market.
"We think the best way to do that is to integrate this solution with a fridge company," Sinha said.
Othman-Gomez, whose father works in the tech industry, said he believes there are other professions the team can contact for advice on how to market the product.
The students became members of the Hillsboro Youth Advisory Council, a body that serves as a bridge between local youth and the Hillsboro city government and promotes service to the community, in part to try to advocate for environmental causes, they said.
"The main reason I joined YAC was because I was passionate about the environment," Othman-Gomez said. "Climate change is a thing, and some people deny that."
Sinha and Othman-Gomez don't know exactly what careers they might want to pursue, but they agree using computer programming and entrepreneurship to solve sustainability dilemmas is urgently needed.
"Clean tech is definitely an avenue I will be looking into," Sinha said.
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