WASHINGTON – New York City teenagers Amro Halwah, Si Ya Ni, and Stephen Mwingria, are hoping a robot they helped invent can stop fires and clean up debris on New York City’s subway tracks.
President Barack Obama seemed to think it was a good idea. The three students presented their device at the president’s sixth annual White House Science Fair Wednesday.
Trash has long plagued the MTA subways, feeding rats and sometimes sparking fires and fear among commuters. The budding engineers were tired of the consequent train delays.
Along with other classmates on the team, the students used a grant from the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam initiative to create a prototype of their invention last year. They built the 100-pound robot in the back of their Spanish classroom at Baruch College Campus High School in Manhattan after school and on weekends.
To apply for the grant, the students had to propose a solution to a real world problem they all experienced. “We found that this was the most important problem. We use it (the subway) so much as students in New York City,” Ni, 18, said.
Their device would attach to the bottom of a work train with the aim of vacuuming debris along the rail tracks. It would run five to 10 times more frequently than the existing cleanup device and hold up to 40 gallons of trash, according to the teens’ InvenTeam profile.
While Mwingria, 17, has been working with robotics since the fourth grade after he moved to the United States from Tanzania, Halwah, 18, who moved here from Egypt five years ago, took on coding for the project with no prior experience.
“It might be a little bit cliché, but anything is possible,” Ni said. “If you’re new to this field don’t worry…I came in knowing almost nothing about this.” Ni, who graduated from Baruch High, is now a freshman at Marist College, studying computer science.
After helping run the machine himself, Obama told the young exhibitors he was looking forward to one day seeing it on the New York City subway tracks.
The team plans to pitch their design to an engineering firm that could then introduce the invention to the MTA.