Sep 1, 2016
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A 41-year-old El Sobrante man recently helped invent a device that has the potential to save countless lives worldwide.

Mike Senese is the executive editor of Make Magazine, a hobbyist’s guide to building things with technology. He has also hosted some related shows on the Discovery Channel, Science Channel and other networks.

With that kind of background, it wasn’t all that surprising when Senese was invited to join a new technology competition web series called Invent-Off, where he would captain a team given just three days to invent technology that can help save a life. You can watch the two-team competition sponsored by Qualcomm unfold in this five-part web series.

While Senese’s team did not end up winning, the potential magnitude of his group’s invention was in no way diminished by the competition’s judges.

Senese’s “Team Orange” — which included Trey German, a software and electrical engineer, and Claire Griffin, a mechanical engineer — created a helmet-mounted device that can call for help in the case of an accident causing serious head trauma.

The so-called Save Me System can also collect invaluable information from a head trauma incident that can be immediately transmitted to medical responders, including the severity and direction of impact.

“We spoke to a physician (during the three-day competition) who said one of most important data for head trauma includes where the trauma occurred, and how hard,” Senese said.

Such a device could be invaluable for such outdoors activities as cycling, backpacking, skiing, and boating, where folks often end up in remote areas, he added.

Senese’s team built a two-piece system that includes a helmet sensor and a Qualcomm Dragon board attached to a bicycle, along with a smartphone connection. Future editions could be shrunken down to a single wearable device, he said.

Coming up with the Save Me System wasn’t as easy as it may sound. The challenge heightened after Senese learned the teams would not be able to work around the clock on their projects.

“Suddenly it went from 72 hours to 22 hours,” he said.

Both teams in the competition were briefed on which pieces of technology they could access.

“The first thing that pops into my head is to invent something you could keep in your house that could analyze any infliction, and it will go straight to your physician,” Senese said. “Let’s try to throw everything into this.”

But Team Orange soon realized it needed to be more focused and specific about the problem it would attempt to solve.

“Toward the end of the first day, we took a walk around the block….walking and talking is a valuable way to spur creativity,” Senese said.

As they were walking, German talked about a recent powered paragliding accident he was involved in while participating in a 100-mile race in rural Oklahoma. German’s engine or propeller stopped working and he fell from the sky and landed in a tree.


“He was glad he had his phone and people were around,” Senese said.

But if he were unconscious or in a remote area without cellphone service, no one would have known about the crash.

“That was the eureka moment,” Senese said.

Though judges praised Team Orange’s life-saving device, it was Team Blue that won the competition. That team developed a system that helps rural villagers assess their condition when they suffer snakebites and access medical help, and also uses drone technology to ensure the proper anti-venom reaches medical facilities treating the patient.

Senese’s spirits remained high even if his team didn’t walk away with the win. The competition, along with the ever-growing do-it-yourself in technology movement, has ushered in a new age where “technology is finally coming back to us,” he said.

“For a very long time we were responsible for building and maintaining all the technology that we had. If you think about into the 1950s everyone would be working on cars, changing spark plugs, tune-ups, we lost all that,” Senese said. “Everything became wrapped up in these black boxes and you open the hood and everything is covered. We’re finally getting to the point where technology is coming back to us, and it’s really exciting. As it gets more powerful, we are figuring out to make it easier to use.


About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.