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South Fayette students to present at Bay Area Maker Faire

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South Fayette students Siddhartha Khajanchi (left), Suraj Bokil, Swathi Senthil, Parv Shrivastava, Pranav Dantu and Prateek Jukalkar.

A team of South Fayette High School students — not even old enough to drive on their own — are working to save lives by stopping others from texting and driving.

The team, participating in the PA Governor’s STEM Competition, created KYHU (Keep Your Head Up), an incentive-based mobile phone docking system and app that would provide discounts on insurance premiums based on the time and distance your device is out of your hands and held securely in the strategically designed dashboard holder.

“Every day and every year, so many people die from this,” said Parv Shrivastava, a sophomore. “It’s just tragic to see all of these lives gone away with texting and driving when it can be easily prevented… . We all thought we could make something that could really help change the lives of many and really help make an impact for the lives of Pennsylvanians and the whole nation.”

In February, the team won the regional competition for the PA Governor’s STEM Challenge for KYHU and is headed to the state competition May 17 and 18 to compete against more than 20 teams.

The team then will head to the Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif., on May 19 and 20 where they will give a 20-minute presentation, “Big Problems, Brilliant Solutions,” on how they use human-centered design to tackle health and safety problems.

South Fayette has been incorporating human-centered design from K-12, and the students will showcase how they use that to help solve real-world issues — like texting and driving, said James Hausman, English teacher, who oversees the team. The team consists of Suraj Bokil, Parv Shrivastava, Swathi Senthil, Prateek Jukalkar and Pranav Dantu. Siddhartha Khajanchi, a freshman, assisted with the project.

In April, the team also presented at the PennDOT innovations Challenge, where they won second place.

But it’s really about saving lives.

“This is such a big issue in Pennsylvania and it would be such a privilege to come up with a solution to prevent this epidemic,” sophomore Suraj Bokil said.

At the start of the school year, the team was given the challenge: Come up with a solution for one of Pennsylvania’s biggest problems.

They brainstorms ideas from how to help people with arthritis, to saving the bee population, making things safer for construction workers — and the winner: helping stop people from texting and driving.

As they researched, the statistics were eye opening. Too many people are dying every year from texting and driving in Pennsylvania. From PennDOT statistics, to personal stories, they heard it over and over again, people are dying from picking up their phones while driving.

“We all spoke about it and people are texting and driving everywhere that we see and we’ve all been affected by it in some way or another,” sophomore Pranav Dantu said.

Bokil laughed about his car rides with his parents where his mom has to remind his dad to put the phone down.

“We kind of laugh at it, but it got me thinking: What happens if that actually led to something truly tragic and horrible,” Bokil said.

Swathi Senthil, a sophomore, often rides with older friends. They’re often fiddling around on Snapchat or Spotify while driving.

Prateek Jukalkar, a junior, also watched his dad text in the car — until this project began.

He would remind his dad of the dangers of texting and driving, but he still did it.

For Jukalkar, that was eye opening, while there are devices out there that provide incentives not to text and drive, the onus is on the person to switch their phone into driving mode. This needed to be different.

“In the research phase, we actually spent a lot of time talking about the psychology of all of this and one of the things is that people form these codependent attachments to their devices and we live a day and age where every message that comes through, because everything is in this eternal present, everything seems like an emergency or a crisis,” Hausman said.

While many statistics show teen deaths due to texting and driving, the team of teens choose to target everyone with their project.

KYHU requires you to dock your phone in a dashboard holder and only allows you to use GPS maps and a simple “play” button for music on your phone. Like the “little black boxes” that some insurance companies but in cars to track a person’s driving, the app also tracks how long, far and fast you go and can submit all of that data to an insurance company, as well as ensuring that your phone is out of your hands while driving — it tracks when the phone is docked on the dashboard.

The group has begun talks with a local Allstate insurance agent about the product.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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