October 28, 2013
In the tragic aftermath of the Newtown school massacre, as is the case every time there’s a school shooting, Americans debated what should be done to ensure the safety of innocent schoolchildren. Gun control advocates are pushing to limit access to deadly weapons by imposing tougher firearm regulations, while the National Rifle Association suggests that armed security guards be stationed at every school in the country.
A group of students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington D.C. has responded differently. The students have taken it upon themselves to come up with a device that prevents armed intruders from breaking into a classroom. Their invention, the DeadStop, is lightweight, shaped like a small, cup-sized plastic cylinder and easily slips over the common large hydraulic hinge known as a “door closer“ in just seconds.
“So many kids and adults were killed (at Sandy Hook). So we got together and we wanted to know how we could stop intruders from entering our school,” Deonté Antrom, a junior at Benjamin Banneker, said in an interview published on NBCNews.com.
The school, like many others across the nation, is equipped with doors that cannot be locked from the inside, in order to comply with building code regulations that allow for unobstructed campus-wide evacuations in case of a fire and other disasters. The DeadStop was designed as a workaround, preserving that need for a quick exit in an emergency while also enabling the class to secure itself inside the room when needed.
The design team of ten students, led by math teacher John Mahoney, started out with a prototype made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tubing typically found in hardware stores and used a nail to keep the device fastened in place. The flaw with that early concept was that it was not rigid enough to keep the door tightly sealed, so the students are currently developing another version built from metal that would enable the device to work like a clamp.
“The device we have is detachable. It will just be in the teacher’s desk and when there is an announcement that there is a shooter in the building, they will be able to take it out and simply install it on the hinge,” Anjreyev Harvey, another junior on the team, told NBC News. “And how we have it designed, no matter how much the shooter shoots through the glass, or shoots at the hinge, he won’t be able to open (the door).”
Side-locking doors can be used by mischievous students to lock teachers out of their own classrooms, another reason why they are not typically used, and with the DeadStop being portable enough to be slipped into a bag or stored elsewhere, it can conveniently be kept in the teacher’s possession at all times.
The DeadStop is similar to another device called the Jamblock. Invented by Pittsburgh schoolteacher Bob Ploskunak, the Jamblock is designed to easily slip under the door and jam any attempts by gunmen to force themselves in. The lock is already being used by schools in two local districts and, like DeadStop, is garnering attention.
Students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School hope to patent and release a final product of DeadStop that costs no more than $15. To make this possible, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has awarded the students a $6,600 grant as part of the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams program, which was created to inspire and motivate high school students to “cultivate their creativity and experience invention.”
The team will demonstrate its invention at MIT in June 2014.
November 15, 2011
A week or so ago I asked my 20-year-old son why there was so much hype around the latest shootapalooza game, “Call of Duty, MW3.”
“You have no idea,” he said.
He was right. Within a day of its release last Tuesday, Activision sold 6.5 million games in North America and the U.K., prompting the company to declare the first-day take of $400 million as the “biggest entertainment launch of all time,” bigger than the openings of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
For the uninitiated, the MW stands for Modern Warfare, although it’s more like World War II with 21st century weapons. The battlegrounds are mainly European cities—London, Paris, Berlin—although it also does provide an opportunity to blast away at Wall Street. In some ways, “MW3″ isn’t all that much like modern warfare—the enemy is the Russian army, not tribesmen hiding in the mountains. And while the game allows players to use drones, they don’t do collateral damage.
Don’t overthink this, I told myself, it’s only a game. But then, the day after the “MW3″ launch, I read a piece in the Washington Post by Amy Fraher, a retired U.S. Navy commander, in which she contended that the most critical asset of military leaders of the future won’t be technical skills, but rather emotional intelligence.
Personally, I can’t imagine Gen. George Patton telling anyone, “I feel your pain.” But Fraher’s point is that as both the makeup of the U.S. military and the situations in which it operates become more complex and nuanced, what a leader really will need is old-fashioned social skills.
Dealing with terror
That’s not to say the Defense Department will stop investing billions in fresh firepower (although looming budget cuts could slice into weapons programs.) But much of the innovative thinking coming out of the Pentagon has to do with helping soldiers deal with the ugliness and unpredictability of modern terror tactics.
In a recent article in National Defense Magazine, “10 Technologies the Military Needs for the Next War,” there’s little mention of weapons. Instead the list focuses on such things as robot pack mules that would relieve soldiers of lugging food, ammo and heavy batteries, high-speed mobile broadband anywhere and—yes, gamers—non-lethal weapons, to reduce civilian casualties.
Nor is it surprising that the military is putting a lot of energy into finding more effective ways to detect roadside bombs, terribly harmful and destructive devices whose threat it didn’t fully anticipate before invading Iraq. Among the bomb-spotting options are a laser being developed at Michigan State and a sensing device using terahertz radiation. And just last week the Defense Department said it was in the market for a long-distance paintball gun that could shoot suspicious objects with bomb-detecting paint.
The other deadly threat in Iraq and Afghanistan have been snipers. One promising defense being developed by a Hawaii firm is a device called FLASH, which uses infrared sensors and high-speed processors to pinpoint not only where shots are coming from, but also what kind of weapon is firing them.
National Defense Magazine didn’t mince words. “Innovation is not helpful if it’s not assisting troops at war,” the article said. “As many senior Pentagon officials have noted, an 80-percent solution that can be available in months is better than a perfect outcome that could takes years or decades to achieve.”
Here are other inventions that could be in the military’s future:
- You and your bright idea: The Defense Department has been relying more and more on crowdsourcing—holding online competitions, with prizes, to encourage outsiders to solve problems. The latest success story is something called the “Vehicle Stopper.” Proposed by a retired mechanical engineer in Peru, it’s a remote-controlled vehicle that can chase down a fleeing car and then deploy an airbag under it and bring it to a halt.
- This is a job for PETMAN: The latest invention from Boston Dynamics, which has already supplied the military with several robot models, is a two-legged, six-foot-tall machine called PETMAN. That’s stands for Protection Ensemble Test Mannequin, and it’s main role would be to test uniforms and headgear designed to protect soldiers from chemical weapons.
- When Humvees fly: The Defense Department wants someone to build a four-seat, off-road vehicle that flies like a helicopter.
- Spy network: To speed up the process for getting spy satellites airborne, the Pentagon is looking to develop airplanes that can launch them into orbit.
Bonus video: Okay, not everything is a good idea. Hungry Beast rolls out some of the “stupidest military inventions in history.”