Eleven teams of teenagers entered Coding Dojo on July 23 with little to no knowledge of 3D printing. Forty-eight hours later, they emerged as inventors, some with prototypes in hand.
The arena for these modern-day young Edisons was the second annual STEAM3D Hackathon and Pitch Contest held by Creative Children for Charity, an Eastside group of children endeavoring to get 5,000 kids ready for the workforce with 3D printing skills.
“That will open them up to a lot more jobs, and it gives them a competitive edge compared to the rest of people entering the workforce,” said Chirag Vedullapalli, who founded 3C at the age of 8 (he’s now a sage 15-year-old).
Participants were given two days to design and create a product, using 3D printing technology, that solved a common problem. Teams were then required to pitch their products to a panel of judges from organizations such as Microsoft and the University of Washington Bothell. 3C looked to popular shows Shark Tank and Project Runway for presentation-day inspiration.
During pitches, groups were asked to identify estimated price points, potential demographics, and marketing strategies. They also shared lessons learned during the 48-hour 3D printing boot camp.
“We saw a real transformation in the kids because they go from nothing, to thinking of an idea, to really implementing an idea,” said Chaitra Vedullapalli, 3C mentor and Chirag’s mother. “The rate that they have to transform personally was really valuable. … They’ve blossomed into a completely new human.”
Teams pitched smartphone accessories, a bag carrier, an educational toddler toy, a spatula with built-in pizza cutter, Pokémon Go accessories, a 3D filament holder, a foot groomer, and a leash-attachable dog litter carrier appropriately called Pooper Caddie.
3D-printed medals were awarded to all teams for participation, but it was the team named Drainage that took home the gold and a $200 cash prize for their smartphone wall mount.
The team consisting of Srikar Chava, Jacob Wavra, Shridhar Gaur, and Malcolm Fisher said they designed their product to be mounted on the wall next to an individual’s bed so the user could easily monitor late-night calls and notifications — a critical task for social-minded teens.
“I don’t have a side table, so I would have to reach all the way across the room to my desk. With this product, it is easier for me to get it off the wall if I get a call,” Chava said.
The team said their invention could also serve as a safe, convenient place to store smartphones in lockers during class.
Whereas most teams created a scaled-down mockup of their product, Drainage’s product was fully functional. The team went so far as attaching the adhesive strips to the case and mounting it on a simulated wall during their presentation. The team underwent multiple setbacks during prototyping, including printer malfunctions, multiple drafts, and a lengthy queue for functioning printers.
“We were in the corner just drowning in our sorrows, like, oh my god we failed so bad,” Gaur said. “We even took a sad Instagram selfie.”
The Drainage members said they plan to donate most of their cash prize to charity.
Chirag Vedullapalli said he hopes to keep the STEAM3D Hackathon going each year with the help of local organizations dedicated to providing science-education resources to youth in the community. “It really stimulates someone’s creative aspects,” he said. “The STEAM program is so important because it is STEM plus arts, and art is really essential to innovation and creativity.”