Innovative Lives

Instant Rent-A-Cars, Wheelchair Dogs, and Smart Blinds

Instant Rent-A-Cars, Wheelchair Dogs, and Smart Blinds
E-Team with wheelchair

Imagine walking up to a car parked on the street, slipping in a computer chip "key," and driving away. Imagine window blinds that open and close in response to the sun. Imagine an assistance dog helping someone in a wheelchair get around.

Middle-schoolers from Washington, DC, Sparks, Nevada, and Raleigh, North Carolina didn't have to imagine these inventions on November 9, 1995. Linked by videoconferencing technology in the Lemelson Center's first "electronic field trip," they tried out these new technologies and met their "E-Team" inventors from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the University of Nevada at Reno.

The "E" in E-Team stands for excellence and entrepreneurship. In an environment designed to nurture a new generation of inventors, these student/faculty teams develop inventions and start them on the road to market. The E-Team curriculum is sponsored by the Lemelson Foundation.

One team demonstrated an instant rent-a-car system that uses the satellite-based Global Positioning System to track the location and availability of cars. Another team explained a window blind system with a built-in light sensor that automatically opens and closes the blinds. And a third team showed how a new type of harnessing system makes it easier for an assistance dog to pull a wheelchair. When the college-age inventors asked the middle-school students for advice on improving their inventions, they were delighted with their younger colleagues' ideas. "We hadn't thought of that," one team member admitted.

All text and images © Smithsonian Institution. Updated 5 February 1999.

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