Anti-drowning device passes key test

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Three students overcame a major technical hurdle last week when their anti-drowning device successfully texted 911.

Lydia Denton, Astrid Santamaria and Lily Phat, all students at Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Education, are competing in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.

The three were notified Jan. 9 that they’d been named one of two North Carolina winners in the STEM competition. They are now competing nationally.

Jeff Williford, assistant director at the county’s 911 center, conducted the test as telecommunicators handled other real calls from around Wilson County.

The students named the contraption the Breathe device, which stands for Bio-Reactive Emergency Alert To Hypoxic Episodes.

Originally designed to alert first responders in the event of a drowning, it was soon clear that the device could also serve as an alert for other medical emergencies.

The device uses an oxygen sensor that sends a text message when the sensor detects insufficient oxygen.

“I think it is an awesome idea,” Williford said. “Anything that can save a life, whether it is a drowning or an asthmatic patient who is not getting enough oxygen to sustain life, I think it is a great idea. It is something that can be used every day.”

Williford said it was awesome to see the three students using technology in their device.

“It was really great to see the thought that they put into it and the technology they put into it,” Williford said. “Texting 911 is relatively new, so it is really great to see something that they have developed in a relatively short time and how useful it can be and the location that it can deliver to us to be able to get there. I think the potential is unlimited for a device like this. Certainly it can save lives, which is the result that they are after and what we are all after, so it will be a great tool and I wish them much luck.”

Astrid, a 12-year-old sixth grader, said it’s important to build a device like this.

“We wanted our device to have an SMS card and a GPS location to prevent drownings, but this device can also help people involved in any type of hypoxic episode if you have an allergic reaction, asthma or anything that can make you stop breathing,” Astrid said.

The moment the device dialed into 911 was a relief for the girls.

“I was like really happy about it because we put a lot of hard work into this,” said Lily, a 12-year-old sixth grader. “It would be really disappointing if it all went down the drain. So it was a really big success when it actually worked.”

The incoming call indicates that there is low oxygen.

“It says the latitude and longitude and the phone number that it is from, and it will say that it is from the Breathe device,” Lydia said.

Lydia, 11, a sixth grader, said there was a lot of emotion in the moment for her.

“I was relieved that it works, and I was really happy and I was excited that it did, so we can move on from that,” Lydia said.

She added the next hurdle is to polish up the code.

“It still has a few imperfections. We need to make sure it works fully, and we need to make sure we are clear on how it works, where the wires are and if a wire pops loose, where it goes,” Lydia said.

The three girls said they appreciate the idea of Samsung challenging middle school students to create solutions to problems.

“It challenges us, the next generation, to help solve problems in the world so that we can improve it since it is going to be the world that we are going to be living in,” Astrid said.

“People need to see what kids would do with the world,” Lily said. “The world is going to be ours sometime.”

The Sallie B. Howard team will soon compete against 100 teams from 50 states for the next level of the contest.

There will be 20 national finalist schools and five national grand prize-winning schools.

For more information about the contest and a complete list of winners, visit www.samsung.com/us/solvefortomorrow/.