Santa Cruz fourth grader wins national invention competition with a backpack for forgetful students
Challenged to find a way to stop from losing his water bottles at school, 10-year-old Aarav Patel of Santa Cruz invented the CheckPak, loaded with tracking devices and enough lights and gizmos to keep the most forgetful student on their toes. And despite a late misfire, the backpack won the fourth grade division at the national Invention Convention competition in Dearborn, Michigan in June.
Aarav Patel doesn’t know exactly how it happens. Perhaps because he’s in a hurry or distracted in the after-school rush, the Santa Cruz 10-year-old tends to lose or forget things at school: his water bottle, his lunch box, his pencil pouch.
“He lost three water bottles in three months,” said his mother, Niyati Patel, adding she would often run around Gateway School looking for her son’s items. Gateway is an independent K-8 day school located on the Westside.
Each time the fourth grader lost a water bottle or a lunch box or a pencil pouch, he feared his mom’s disappointment.
“He is a brilliant kid but he is very disorganized,” his mother said.
So in January — when Aarav was challenged for an educational program at school to come up with an invention that could help solve one of his daily problems — his mom suggested he find a way to stop losing his water bottles.
First, Aarav thought he could create some kind of checklist to help forgetful and disorganized kids like him. “But the problem with that is that distracted or rushing kids will forget to check off the checklist,” he said.
Then he realized he could somehow use a backpack, since kids rarely forget their backpacks.
After he settled on the backpack idea, Aarav researched the problem. He found that adults spend more than $26.7 billion on back-to-school supplies and that 80% of children will misplace expensive items like lunch boxes and clothing.
“I wanted to solve the problem even more after [learning] that,” he said.
That’s how the CheckPak was born.
Aarav and his dad purchased $47.67 in supplies, such as a remote locator and circuit items, and used a water bottle, backpack, battery and box they already had at home.
He spent several weeks in January and February building a wireless communications system that uses electromagnetics and radio frequency to find an object within a certain distance. He placed tracking tags on a water bottle, a lunchbox and pencil pouch. Aarav created a circuit that would be able to turn a light installed on the backpack green when all the tracked items were inside, or turn the light red when at least one object was missing from the backpack. He also installed a tracking device so when he can’t find his water bottle or lunch box, he can press a button on a control and the item will start beeping.
His ingenuity won him first place in the fourth grade category at the national Invention Convention competition in Dearborn, Michigan, on June 9.
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“I didn’t think I was going to win,” Aarav said. “And then it happened, I was in shock. I couldn’t move.”
Weeks later, he found out he had qualified to compete virtually in the Americas Invention Convention which is the program’s final competition of the top inventors from Mexico and the United States. He submitted his invention and is waiting for the Aug. 25 awards ceremony to hear how his CheckPak does against the other inventions.
Aarav first competed against his fourth grade classmates at Gateway School on March 24. Then he competed at the county level, qualifying for the statewide California Invention Convention, where he was awarded the Industry Focus award for the Consumer Goods and Fashion category on May 5. He won out over 334 other students in the state convention.
That victory qualified him to compete nationally in Michigan against more than 350 inventors.
While in Dearborn, he visited The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation — his favorite part of his Invention Convention experience this year.
“It was a magical experience — you were surrounded by generations of inventions, from agricultural inventions to consumer inventions,” he said.
Maybe the most stressful part was presenting to the judges there June 8. “Just that one time I needed it to work, it didn’t work,” he said. “It wasn’t very good.”
Aarav said he was embarrassed and thought he didn’t do very well. “It felt over,” he said.
The next day, when the awards were announced, he couldn’t believe he’d won and said he felt incredible.
With inspiration from his father, Snehal Patel, who used to be an electrical engineer, Aarav said he’s had a passion for engineering for years. Snehal now works at Google as director of product management.
Snehal and Niyati Patel said when their fourth grader isn’t designing a high-tech backpack, he’s playing video games or impressing his parents in some thoughtful way. They recalled how in his third grade year, Aarav started a club called Be The Change because he wanted to help reduce a rising number of arguments and fights at his school.
He encouraged students in the club to complete an objective each week like picking up trash or complimenting a classmate. They also held a fundraiser for Ukraine that raised $1,092.
“He always brings us a way of looking at things where, I think he’s more mature than I was at his age for sure,” said Snehal, adding that Aarav does occasionally get in trouble for too much screen time.
Aarav imagines a bright future for CheckPak.
Right now the backpack has a small red light similar to a Christmas tree light sticking out near the top of the bag and the circuit wires are located in two boxes inside the bag’s bottom. Aarav hopes to make the boxes much smaller in his final model so they take up less space.
In the meantime, his family has applied for a patent for the CheckPak technology and Aarav’s father said it’s currently pending.
“I’m very excited about it,” said Snehal. “This is fantastic.”
He has ideas for designs such as making an Iron Man-themed backpack so the eyes of the Iron Man helmet light up red or green on the backpack.
He also hopes that one day any student who wants a CheckPak can buy one.
Aarav knows it will make a difference for him by helping him keep his water bottles.
“I want to be an engineer when I grow up. So for me, this was an amazing experience,” he said. “I was very excited because I wanted to go through the invention process. I wanted to, I guess, like, change the world.”
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