Students Massachusetts High School Seniors Create the Emergency Rescue Assistant
Darren O'Neil, Dianna Willms, and Ivan Yu (left to right) pose with their Emergency Rescue Assistant prototype.

NATICK, Mass. -- Darren O'Neil, Ivan Yu and Dianna Willms are typical high school students, except for the fact that all three received gold medals at the national level for their work on a life-saving device.

Their innovation is called the Emergency Rescue Assistant and it has the capability to increase the chance of survival for victims of cardiac arrest. Team member Ivan Yu is a lifeguard and came up with the idea two years ago after realizing that it was difficult to remember the different algorithms for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and rescue breathing.

According to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, less than one percent of bystanders have had CPR training, and of those, fewer than ten percent retained the knowledge even a few months after training.

"After conducting a survey of our own, it became clear to us that this was a problem that needed to be addressed as soon as possible," O'Neil said.

They decided early on that they wanted to integrate different useful concepts from other products already on the market.

The Emergency Rescue Assistant includes many of the same features of the Automated External Defibrillator, but at a significantly less expensive cost than the AED. The price for one Emergency Rescue Assistant if brought to market is estimated at approximately $150.

The ERA is not a replacement for the AED, but rather an aid until the paramedics arrive or an AED is located.

Their device includes breathing and pulse sensors that can analyze the victim's current vitals. It also has visual and audio capabilities that allow the user to both hear instructions and see it in animation form on the device screen.

In June, the students entered the device into the 2010 National SkillsUSA Engineering Technology Competition. Over 5000 other teams from across the country participated in competing for a gold medal in their respective categories.

"SkillsUSA is an amazing organization that promotes career and technical education all over the nation. At nationals, there are so many competitions, including ones that I'd never even heard of. This shows the wide range of careers available. In our particular competition, Engineering Technology, it was nice to see the different projects students from different states designed. We are the future of the world," Yu said.

Before reaching the nationals, teams must earn gold medals at the in-house level (where they competed with other students from their own high school) and the state-level. Three judges evaluate and score the students' work based on a PowerPoint presentation, a question and answer session and a demonstration.

All three students graduated from the Minuteman Career & Technical High School in Lexington, Mass. The school's pre-engineering program was specifically designed by the Rochester Institute of Technology and grants certificates to students that guarantee an entry-level engineering job upon graduation.

The school also has a strong network of individuals and companies, which the students were able to take advantage of in the development stages of their project.

"None of this would have been possible without the enlisted help of several engineers at Raytheon, instrumentation laboratories, and many other companies who advised us about everything from the physical package and circuit design to the PowerPoint presentation," O'Neil said.

"They [engineer instructors] told us that engineering is a process that is never finished. There are always improvements that can be made, which makes it challenging, but fun," Willms said.

The manufacturing portion of the project took about a year to complete and they are currently in the early stages of getting their device patented.

O'Neil is a summer hire at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) working on a joint project for the Shelters Systems Team with the Product Manager-Force Sustainment Systems, part of the Army's Program Executive Office.

Joseph Mackoul, project officer of the Shelters Systems Team and O'Neil's supervisor, was impressed by the recent high school graduate's technical knowledge level and engineering acumen. "His zeal and love for engineering and solving technical problems is very evident in the way he approaches his daily work. Considering his advanced knowledge and love for engineering, we anticipate a bright future for him," said Mackoul.

"I've been able to learn from some of the best here at Natick. I'm working alongside very hardworking and highly intelligent engineers who have taught me so much about the field I'm trying to get into," O'Neil said.

In the fall, he's matriculating to Western New England College as an Electrical Engineering major. He plans to take many entrepreneur and business classes while he's attending because he'd like to start his own business someday.

O'Neil's teammates, Yu and Willms also have similar goals.

Yu plans to major in Electrical Engineering and Product Design at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has dreams of one day working in the electrical department of a company that uses the design process and engineering notebooks.

Willms, who's attending the same college as O'Neil, plans to major in Industrial Engineering and work as a technical marketer in her future career.

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is located at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, Natick, Mass. Natick is home to many innovations designed to "empower, unburden, and protect the Warfighter to enable the dominance of the Army."

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Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16