Man Overboard!

21 May 2013
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Young Engineer Sam Wheelhouse.

Young Engineer Sam Wheelhouse at his ISEF stand.

Young Engineer from Nottingham wins international prize for life-saving device.

Sam Wheelhouse, a 19-year-old student from Nottingham, has won one of the top prizes at the world’s biggest science and engineering fair, held in Phoenix, Arizona, for a life-saving alarm system called Man Overboard!

Sam’s invention integrates a battery-powered electronic alarm system within a conventional lifejacket and sends a potentially life-saving signal automatically back to the ship when a person falls overboard.

Sam, now a first-year student at Loughborough University, devised the system when he was at Nottingham High School, where he was a member of the Young Engineers Club. He won a third place award at the prestige Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix, which attracts more than 1,500 young people from 74 countries.

Young Engineers Clubs, of which the IET is a sponsor, provide after-school and teacher support activities in hundreds of UK schools. IET Fellow Rod Edwards, chief executive of the Young Engineers charitable organisation which co-ordinates the clubs’ network, said: “Sam’s device is a brilliant example of the problem-solving and creative thinking that are at the heart of engineering. We believe there is no similar device on the market. Sam’s project shows how Young Engineers in our clubs can really get to grips with engineering and make a real difference.”

Sam travelled to Phoenix as part of a Young Engineers contingent that also included Erin Nolan, previously at Wirral Grammar School for Girls. Their travel was sponsored by a grant from the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers and they were accompanied by Rod Edwards from Young Engineers.

Sam’s ‘Man Overboard!’ device incorporates water and pressure sensors on the lifejacket that are activated if the wearer falls overboard. They trigger an LED light on the lifejacket to aid search and rescue, and also send alarm signals back to a base station on board the vessel, which then picks up the location of the person in the water via GPS. Each base station can support up to 16 individual lifejackets.

At the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Grand Awards ceremony, Sam was awarded third place in the Engineering: Electrical and Mechanical category and a certificate of honourable mention from the International Council on System Engineering in the special awards category.