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Midvale Journal

Middle school students recognized by city council for bionic scarecrow device

Oct 03, 2017 03:14PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Mayor JoAnn Seghini honors students Allison Drennan, Abigail Slama-Catron, Eric Snaufer, and their coaches. (Ruth Hendricks/City Journals)

At the Midvale city council meeting on Sept. 5, a group of students were recognized for a recent prestigious award they received for a device they created. 

The Bionic Porcupines 2.0, the name of the team of four 12-year-olds, won the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) President’s Environmental Youth Award for Region 8. The device the team invented, called a Bionic Scarecrow, is a cost-effective, portable air dancer to prevent birds from striking airplanes. The team demonstrated their device at the EPA Region 8 meeting on July 18 in Denver. Then the group headed to Washington, D.C. for an Aug. 28 national awards ceremony at EPA headquarters.

Appearing before the city council were Abigail Slama-Catron, Eric Snaufer, and Allison Drennan. Team member Timothy Holt couldn’t make it to the meeting.

Allison Drennan set the stage for the group’s presentation. “Picture this. It’s January 2009 and you and 154 other people are boarding a US Airways flight at LaGuardia Airport in New York to Seattle, Washington. About 3 minutes into the flight you hear a big bang and then silence.” Drennan then asked the audience to imagine the smell of burning fuel and then hearing the pilot announce, “Brace for impact.”

The incident Drennan described is commonly referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson” when a plane struck a flock of geese right after takeoff and consequently lost all engine power. Unable to reach any airport, pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a landing in the Hudson River. All 155 people aboard were rescued and there were few serious injuries. 

Drennan said that not many people have encountered a bird strike, thanks to Bobby Boswell, a USDA airport wildlife biologist and other workers all over the world, striving to prevent bird strikes.  “What we did in our team was to help make the wildlife staff’s job be more effective.”

Next, Abigail Slama-Catron took over the presentation.  “At the airport, all of the birds left the area as soon as we put our device on the field.  In fact, Mr. Boswell put our bionic scarecrow in a field that had lots of birds.” She said that there were no birds in the field the whole time that the device was used. 

Slama-Catron described how the bionic scarecrow works. The device is powered by a battery which goes to a switch, to a marine fan, out through a tube and blows through a nylon sock. All of it is waterproof.

Eric Snaufer then told the audience that there is a huge market for these devices. “We have started with 216 major airports as our target market, but it could be applied to many other fields, such as commercial buildings or farms. In fact, our design won a prestigious award at a high school level entrepreneurship challenge for best prototype.” 

Snaufer described the testing of the device by Boswell, which included over 200 hours in the field at Salt Lake International Airport with 100 percent success for every test. 

“Mr. Boswell has reported that it can scare birds away for up to 50 yards, depending on species. It has been floated on bodies of water with the use of a pontoon and has been tested on an abandoned golf course with resounding success,” said Snaufer. 

Snaufer then recognized their main coach. “I want to thank Mr. Boswell for all the work he did to make this project take flight. Thank you, Bobby, for your help. It was monumental.” 

Mayor JoAnn Seghini asked if the team had any customers yet. Snaufer said they recently went to an International Bird Strike conference. “It basically is a bunch of bird scaring devices and airports come and see all of them. We have gotten interest from multiple people, including in Dallas.” 

Snaufer said they have interest from quite a few airports, and some individuals but have not made a first sale yet. Drennan said they were still doing testing and plan to make some revisions to the device. 

“This wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t have parents who were helping you and you didn’t have excellent coaches,” said Seghini.  “We’re so proud of you. Thank you again teachers, parents, but mostly the innovative scientists.” 

Council member Paul Hunt said, “Councilman Sperry and I were talking, and I’m an accountant and he’s an attorney, so if you need to hire us, just let us know. We could be working for the future leaders of America right now. Congratulations.”

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