This Teen's Trying To Make The Road Safer Years Before She Even Starts Driving

This Teen's Trying To Make The Road Safer Years Before She Even Starts Driving

She has a couple more years to go before she's eligible for a driver's license, but 14-year-old Katharine Wu, a high school freshman from Maryland, is already working to make the road a safer place for everyone.

Wu is a finalist in the 2014 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge thanks to her entry for an ingenious device designed to detect and prevent drowsy driving. What's equally impressive: she submitted her video entry to the challenge, which awards prizes for scientific solutions to everyday problems, last spring while still in middle school.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving while fatigued causes at least 100,000 crashes a year -- and the agency says that drowsiness is widely underreported. To combat this problem, Wu created the "driver's companion."

The companion prototype consists of a Bluetooth-connected headset linked to a Raspberry Pi, a tiny credit card-sized computer. Wu programmed the companion to track body changes via electroencephalography, or EEG, which monitors the electrical activity of the brain. As Wu explains in the video, if the device detects slower EEG waves and increased blinking -- both of which indicate a lack of alertness -- it sends audiovisual wake up calls before the driver begins to drift off.

Wu hopes that the companion, engineered to be proactive and not reactive, will help stem the number of crashes.

“I really like how you can learn something and use that to help society,” she told The Washington Post.

Over the summer, Wu worked alongside 3M's Dr. Jesse Miller to fine-tune her device for the competition's final presentations on Oct. 13 and 14. The winner will receive $25,000, a trip, and the title of "America's Top Young Scientist."

"It is imperative that we cultivate our nation's next generation of great thinkers, innovators and science communicators by providing them with engaging ways to explore the science that goes on every day in the world around them," Dr. Cindy Moss, Discovery Education's Director of Global STEM Initiatives, said in a press release.

Go To Homepage

Before You Go

Nelly Lukale
Nelly works actively to empower young women and girls in Kenya, both in rural areas and in Nairobi's slum areas. She is a trained community health nurse and peer mentor from Kenya, where she is active with Kenya YWCA and serves as the National Youth Coordinator.
Diane Fender
Diane is a strong advocate for women's and girls' rights and has worked to empower women in trafficking. As the Vice President of Girls' Globe she has been a part of building the Girls' Globe network during the past year, to connect young women and grassroots organizations - giving them the ability to share their inspirational stories through Girls' Globe.
Maureen Anyango Oduor
Maureen Anyango Oduor is an Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Regional coordinator for The African Peace Ambassadors Tanzania (APAT), a grassroots organization that seeks to empower marginalized, disadvantaged, and at risk populations.
Cecilia Garcia Ruiz
Cecilia Garcia Ruiz is the Gender Projects Coordinator for Espolea, a Mexican youth-led organization that works to promote young people’s sexual and reproductive rights, foster young women’s empowerment, and prevent gender-based violence. Currently, with a grant from Women Deliver, she is working to increase the capacity of young mothers in urban Mexico to advocate for better policies and of NGOs to support this underserved population.
Julia Wiklander
Julia started Girls' Globe as a way for young women around the world to connect and raise their voices about women's and girls' rights and health. She wants to empower youth as a means of accelerating progress for women and girls worldwide.
Megan Foo
Megan is a high-school senior who actively uses her voice to raise awareness. She is the President of the Hong Kong Chapter of Women LEAD, a peer-led, creativity-focused nonprofit that provides women’s leadership development training and advocacy in Nepal. Additionally, Megan is the Founder and President of the Hong Kong Chapter of Givology, an online giving marketplace that leverages dollar donations to fund grassroots education projects in the developing world.
Yemurai Nyoni
Yemurai Nyoni is a youth activist from Zimbabwe. He is the founder and Director of DotYouth Organisation and a youth representative on the PMNCH Adolescent Expert Advisory Group. His work focuses on increasing young people’s access to family planning. With a grant from Women Deliver, he is currently implementing a project to end child marriage in rural Zimbabwe through innovative, youth-led approaches that target key decision-makers.
Wanzala Martin
Wanzala E. Martin is the co-founder and team leader of Allied Youth Initiative Uganda, an organization that promotes youth innovation for positive change. Currently, with a grant from Women Deliver, he is working on a project that advocates from increased investments in youth-focused sexual and reproductive health education and programs.
Chukwudera Bridget Okeke
Chukwudera Bridget Okeke is a Program Manager at Concern Women International Development Initative in Nigeria. Her work focuses on sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality, and HIV/AIDS. With a grant from Women Deliver, she is currently implementing a project that works to enable female sex workers in Nigeria’s Benue State to negotiate safer sex with their clients.
June Eric-Udorie
June Eric-Udorie, 16, is a high school sophomore from Nigeria, currently living in the UK. She is a member of Plan UK’s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP), a group of young people from across Britain that ensures the voices of young people remains at the heart of Plan’s work. She is passionate about girls’ education, ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Early and Forced Marriage (EFM). She is currently an FGM Ambassador for Plan UK where she advocates about women’s rights and educates about the dangers of the procedure in the UK and Nigeria. She has volunteered at a local prison where she was able to educate women about their sexual health rights and contraceptive use. When not otherwise engaged, June can be found writing, fundraising for Plan’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ campaign, organizing FGM awareness events or watching TED Talks. She is a feminist, music enthusiast and book addict.

Popular in the Community