WASHINGTON -- Three-year-old Danielle Fairchild of Georgia was born without fingers. To write and draw, she uses her "other hand," a prototype of a prosthetic device developed by young inventors from Ames, Iowa.
They are the team of Girl Scout Cadettes from troops 150 and 955 who call themselves the Flying Monkeys, and they were the first-place winners of the Global Innovation Award. They received $20,000 toward their pending patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Va., at an awards ceremony last month.
"I can draw with my other hand," was the first thing Danielle said to her mom, Dale Fairchild, when the family received the prototype for the "BOB-1" device.
The award was presented by the X Prize Foundation in conjunction with the Patent and Trademark Office. The projects were entered into another invention competition, the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League. There were nearly 180 submissions.
"These kids are set for life in terms of their own path and what this experience brought to them intellectually," said Robert Weiss, X Prize president.
He said his company's motto is "revolution through competition." "This really is the NBA of innovation," he said.
The idea for the prosthetic device stemmed from teammate Kate Murray's hand, which also isn't fully formed, said Courtney Pohlen, 12. She said the team wanted to make "an adaptive device so that somebody could write."
In the past six months, the Girl Scouts conducted experiments,
researched prosthetics, spoke to experts in the field and were prepared to design a device. They put out a call online, which is how Dale Fairchild found them. The team developed the prototype out of plastic, foam and Velcro and sent it to Danielle. After she began using it, the team made further revisions, upgrading it to BOB-1.2.
The girls said they will continue to work on BOB and would love to see it sell commercially.
One lesson the girls learned: "If it doesn't work the first time, make sure you try again," said Maria Werner-Anderson, 12.
Trial and error helped the Blue Gear Ticks of Lincoln, Mass., who were runners-up in the initial competition. They invented an unfurling, bio-absorbable arterial stent for children that grows along with the child, eliminating multiple open-heart surgeries for young patients.
Two microwave beams can amplify each other at certain angles, said Claire Telfer, 13. That heat can be aimed at the wax coating of the child's stent so it "expands in both length and diameter," said Amelia Brown, 12.
The Blue Gear Ticks have a provisional patent and want to proceed with a full patent, team members said.
The 4th Motor team of East Troy, Wis., also has a provisional patent and was a runner-up for its noninvasive glucose check for children with diabetes. A microchip would be implanted into a patient's wrist, and a watch would read the chip. They even have an iPad app that would allow parents to check their child's glucose level.
Dean Kamen, a New Hampshire-based inventor who attended the ceremony, started FIRST Lego League to foster a generation of innovators.
"I have been competing with Fortune 500 companies for a few years now," he said, but he no longer sees them as his only competition. "Now I have to compete with groups of kids that are smaller and younger."
Kamen said he welcomed the challenge.