Texas college students engineer tools for firefighters

First place went to the "Motley Tool," a handheld gadget that combines five of the most commonly used tools used by hazmat crews

The Eagle

BRYAN, Texas — It's going to be a rough Monday for Texas A&M senior Tadeo Huerta.

The 22-year-old from Little Elm said he received a combined nine hours of sleep Friday and Saturday night, fewer hours than he typically averages per night on the weekend.

"I like my sleep, so I'm going to be suffering this week," Huerta said Sunday. "But it was well worth it."

Huerta was one of 75 Texas A&M students who participated in Aggies Invent, a 48-hour event during which time students were tasked with brainstorming, designing and developing a product intended to be used to alleviate some of the challenges faced by first responders in the field.

"This can actually save people's lives," Huerta said, referring to the disaster relief tracking device his team, the Aggies Invent Rescue Squad, came up with.

The squad of five students -- one of 12 teams to participate -- received third place and $250 for their product, which was designed to be dropped from an unmanned aircraft vehicle into disaster areas to be used by survivors who could then notify search and rescue teams of their location.

During the two-day event, students were mentored by experts in emergency response who had been asked to provide students with problems within their profession that could be solved by innovation. Teams -- the majority of which consisted of Dwight Look College of Engineering students -- were given a work space in the Engineering Innovation Center, where they also had access to laser-cutting machines, 3-D printers, and anything else Rodney Boehm, a Texas A&M Engineering industry mentor, and other faculty who assisted in the event thought the students might need.

"Everything we needed was here, and if it wasn't, Rodney would go and get it for us," said Melinda McClure, a senior chemical engineering major who was part of Huerta's team.

Taking home first place and a $750 prize was Vapor Space, a team of two freshmen, two sophomores and a graduate student who developed the "Motley Tool," a handheld gadget that combines five of the most commonly used tools used by HazMat crews during an emergency response.

A prototype of the "Motley Tool" -- capable of functioning as a bung wrench, an adjustable wrench, a valve wrench, a hammer and a scrapper -- was printed on a 3-D printer and taken to Disaster City Sunday morning for a test run by Elizabeth Morris, a HazMat training manager with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, and one of her colleagues.

"They did exactly what we asked them to," Morris said, adding that the tool "definitely has application" in the real world.

The top three teams -- second place went to team Raising the Bar, which developed a device to monitor radiation, temperature and gas levels in the air and can be worn by dogs or people during search and rescue missions -- were also promised space in Startup Aggieland in the spring, a bonus thrown in by Dick Lester, director of Texas A&M Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, after watching the final presentations.

Judges of the event said they were so impressed with the work done by all of the teams that they altered their prize plans and decided to give $100 to groups that didn't make it in the top three.

Two of those teams were tasked with finding a way to keep police officers cool during the Texas heat without adding weight to their utility belts, a mission assigned by College Station police Lt. Chuck Fleeger.

The teams took different approaches to how they'd go about regulating an officer's body heat, but both used designs that could be situated under officer uniforms and body armor.

"They did a lot more than I expected," Fleeger said. "I had no idea they were going to do this much in 48 hours."

After student presentations, Boehm told students that a camera was set up in the back of the room and had been livestreaming the conclusion of the event. At one point, he said, the YouTube channel they were broadcasting on had more than 600 viewers.

"The students exceeded my expectations," he said. "They exceeded my expectations in creativity, implementation and in how they presented."

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