Original article can be found at the Inly News & Events archives page.

Inly Alum Wins Grand Prize at State Science Fair

July 9, 2008

For the third year in a row, Ricky Housley (Inly Middle School class of ’08) has been named Grand Prize winner at the Middle School State Science & Engineering Fair. Ricky’s 2007 project, “Interfacing and Controlling a Robotic Arm with a Computer,” was a tough act to follow, but Ricky managed to do it again. “Cellular Automation,” his 2008 entry, was a huge hit at the fair in June and has already sparked interest from a patent attorney.

At the Middle School Regional (Southeastern) science fair this spring, Ricky took home first prize (this was the highest honor, as there is no grand prize at the regional level). He also won the regional Clean Technology Award, presented by the Foresight Project.

Well known at school for his self-motivated ways, Ricky started working on his project last January, independently at home. From March through May, he devoted an hour of his free time each day to the project. (During this time, he also spent two lunch hours a week teaching a robotics class to fellow students, using a curriculum he had designed himself.)
“At Inly I was also able to use my independent time (sort of like a study hall in the Inly Middle School) to work on my science fair report, and ask teachers for suggestions about what could be improved upon. Inly has helped open up my more creative side,” says Ricky, “which was a large aspect of my project.”

The winning project
“Cellular Automation” takes cell phone technology to a whole new level. Ricky set himself the following challenge: to remotely control four 120-volt electrical outlets via text messages. He succeeded—brilliantly—with his winning device, which enables its user to remotely turn on and off air conditioners, heaters, fans, crock-pots, and many other household appliances—all with a cell phone.

Here’s how it works: “The idea was that a text message would be sent from a phone, and the message would then be received by another phone connected to a computer,” he explains. “Depending on the content of the message, different outlets would be turned on or off by the computer. The computer controlled the individual outlets via the parallel port and some custom built circuitry.“

Here’s what makes it green: “This technique can be used to reduce heating and air conditioning emissions by reducing the amount of time that they were turned on. Instead of a heater or air conditioner turned on all day regulating the temperature, cellular automation would enable cell phone owners to turn on the heater or air conditioner while on their way home. (In addition to the many other type appliances that appear to be turned off, but are really on standby and consuming electricity such as phone chargers, cable TV boxes, and X-boxes!)”

Future plans
Ricky is excited to begin ninth grade at Boston University Academy in the fall, and is already working on ideas for next year’s state competition—this time at the high school level. The self-described “tinkerer” spends much of his free time “taking things apart and putting them back together again,“ experimenting with circuitry, and reading online articles.

But it’s not all work and no play for the 14-year-old: He is an avid snowboarder and soccer player and enjoys participating on his local swim team. As he puts it, “I am enthusiastic about everything I do, and I am known to have an unlimited supply of energy!”

Stay tuned…