with a poet
By Nancy Bartosek
senior Tracy Haverty admits her nervousness the day she accepted the research
assistant job in the campus engineering lab.
engineering sophomore, she lacked much of the basic electrical knowledge
she would need to complete the project she just agreed to do -- create an
alcohol microsensor that detects when a driver is legally drunk and then
silently signals authorities.
first few weeks all I did was read and work through the lab manuals for
classes that I would be taking in the fall," she said. "I'd call my Dad
up and say, Dad, I don't know what I'm doing!"
A year later
Haverty would proudly accept an award usually reserved for graduate research -- first
place for her paper on the project from the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The device will move into the commercial
development stage within the year. Senior
Kris Shuman is working this year with Kolesar to add features and tweak
the final design.
core of the project is a half-dollar-size fuel cell with a tiny fan attached
to the back to draw air past the cell. The black platinum front of the
fuel cell reacts with ethyl alcohol molecules in the air, creating electrical
impulses. The magnitude of the electrical output can be directly related
to the amount of ethyl alcohol in the air -- which correlates to the amount
of alcohol consumed by the driver.
If the electrical
impulse indicates the driver is emitting levels that exceed the legal
limit, the device activates a transmitter that sends a signal to a police
receiver. Police then have probable cause to stop the car and investigate.
could be used in any sort of vehicle, including trains or heavy equipment
cabs. The signal can also be connected to the car's global positioning
system and the vehicle's location will be beamed by satellite to anywhere,
including the owner's home if requested.
developed, the device will cost less than $100 and likely be installed
in the roof or dashboard of every new car. Auto makers, as well as law
enforcement agencies and groups like MADD, are clamoring for this project's
completion, Kolesar said.
device creates some touchy issues about privacy, it also will protect
auto companies from accident liability if they can prove that a driver
was impaired," he said.
who landed an internship at Lockheed Martin this past summer, said working
on the sensor was a lesson in self-reliance.
only jobs I'd had before this was as a lifeguard and a waitress,"
she said, laughing. "This experience taught me to trust myself and
have confidence even doing something I know nothing about."