From laptop to chest top

Hillside students’ invention makes a mark
Dec. 10, 2012 @ 05:40 PM

Devin Polk walked around the Hillside High School classroom, his team’s invention suspended in front of his chest, making believe he was a CEO in a hurry, finishing off a report.

 “And prices are up and dividends are good,” said Polk as he mimed typing on the laptop keyboard that moved with him.

Then he looked up. “That’s how it works,” he said. “It’s pretty simple.”

The “Chest Top,” conceived by the four student members of the Hillside Innovation Team, may be simple, but it’s already pretty successful, too.

The invention is one of five finalists for the Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation, sponsored by the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University. Making it to the finals has already earned the team a $1,000 prize and made team members eligible for the final $5,000 grant to put the idea into action.

Their entry is, in fact, fairly simple — a light cardboard-and-wood platform held together by gorilla tape that is suspended by straps from the wearer’s neck. The laptop goes on the platform, enabling the user to walk or stand while continuing to work.

“Imagine that you’re a college student, working on a big paper the night before it’s due,” said team member Amari Vaughn. “But then you fall asleep before you’re finished.”

Not a problem, he explained.

“You wake up in the morning and grab your laptop while on the way to the bus. You keep typing. You’re on the bus and you’re still typing. You get to the class before the professor gets there and you’re still typing — and you’re finished before he arrives.”

The team members are all long-time students in Major Coleman’s computer engineering classes. Coleman was the one who found out about the contest, which asked for students to develop break-though products that could benefit classmates, neighborhoods or community groups.

“They just ran with it,” Coleman said. “They were very eager.”

“We knew we wanted to build something,” said Troy Tyler, a team member. “In our little group, we’ve been discussing how to make our mark in the world. This seemed like a really good thing to do.”

It took the team about a week to come up with the idea and a couple of days to construct the prototype.

“It wasn’t work,” said Polk. “This is fun for us. It’s relaxing. It’s enjoyable.”

The team now has to “take this prototype to the next level,” said Coleman. “Right now, it’s an ugly duckling.”

The team also has to produce a video explaining the invention idea in more detail.

“And we’re working to improve it, too,” said Vaughn. “Maybe add a cushion or a no-slip surface. It’ll be so much cooler.”

“It’ll look so much nicer,” said Tyler.

“We’ll make it more comfortable,” said Polk.

“They’re ready to do the work,” said Coleman.

The competition winner will be announced in February.