Lower Moreland High School's "Team Road Warriors" idea of installing power generating plates across Pennsylvania's road network took first place in PennDOT's annual innovations challenge competition.
The fourth annual competition challenged students in grades nine through 12 to develop an innovative and implementable solution that helps address Pennsylvania's transportation revenue shortfall by identifying potential new funding streams, aside from additional gas taxes, tolls or mileage-based user fees, to help ensure adequate transportation funding for the future. This year's challenge was hosted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"To meet the needs of its aging infrastructure, Pennsylvania must establish a funding stream that will inject an additional $5 billion per year into its transportation system," PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E., said in her introductory remarks during the virtual judging event in April. "And so, we have turned to our upcoming generation to use their creativity to help us address this issue."
The Lower Moreland team, comprised of students Misha Bankulla, Gopiga Dass and Daniel Porotov, developed a solution advocating the use of piezoelectric plates, involving two metal plates with various kinds of crystals between them. The word piezoelectric stems from the Greek word piezein, which means to squeeze or press. In essence, the process relies on squeezing crystals to generate an electric current. Power generated from the devices would be sold to electric producers to generate a new revenue source for Pennsylvania's transportation system.
The team said the plates can be installed either in concrete or asphalt and used on heavily traveled roadways and transportation networks, generating large amounts of sustainably sourced energy. They suggested PennDOT could pursue arrangements for having the plates donated to the department.
One of the challenge judges, PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Administration Robert Chiappelli, said he liked the clean energy idea and tying it to new revenue for the department.
In the competition, which yielded more than 30 entries and nine regional winners from high schools around the state, second place was awarded to The Hill School's "Team the Blues," consisting of students Edward Proffitt, Rohan Dondeti, Andres Arevalo and Juan Hinostroza. Their innovative solution, a mobile app called "PA Road Rewards," proposed a variety of games that would reward users and track driving behaviors. Sponsorships and subscriptions would be sold to generate transportation revenue.
Third place was awarded to North Allegheny Cyber Academy's "Team North Allegheny," consisting of students Brendan White and Benjamin Quint. They proposed higher registration fees with a rebate based on miles driven each year.
The top three teams divided a $5,500 cash prize donated by the Transportation Policy and Education Foundation, the educational arm of the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors (APC), the American Council of Engineering Companies of PA (ACEC/PA), and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA). Lower Moreland was awarded $3,000, the Hill School, $1,500 and North Allegheny Cyber Academy, $1,000.
Other regional winners were students from State College High School, Centre County; Midd-West High School, Snyder County; Dallas High School, Luzerne County; North Schuylkill Jr./Sr. High School, Schuylkill County; Dover Area High School, York County; and Kiski Area High School, Armstrong County.
Their solutions ranged from driving apps; use of wind turbines along roadways to generate electricity; restructured registration fees; leasing rights of way for solar panel installation; using a vehicle registration bar code system to collect both transportation and state park fees; and multi-tiered approaches to address the transportation revenue shortfall.
"We asked the students to develop an innovative and implementable solution, including how to educate and gain the support of Pennsylvanians," Secretary Gramian said. "We were looking for ideas on new and equitable funding streams, and the students delivered an array of innovative solutions. We appreciate the creativity all of the teams brought to the competition. I was so impressed with the work our next generation did on this challenge, and it gives me hope and encouragement for our future."
For more information, visit the Innovations Challenge page on PennDOT's website.