A group of Eden Prairie High School students is using a deep interest in technology to develop a device that could warn drivers when they are distracted while behind the wheel.
The device — which has yet to be named — would use a small computer connected to a tiny camera mounted to the rearview mirror. The camera would focus on pupils to determine where the driver is looking. If it senses attention has turned to a phone or other object, a light would flash to remind drivers to get their eyes and mind back on their task.
"We want to make something to reduce distracted driving," said Yash Dagade, one of about a dozen students in the school's Distraction-free Life Club working on the invention.
In Minnesota, distracted driving is one of the leading factors in crashes that result in a serious injury or death, according to the state Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety. As of June 30, nine motorists have died this year in crashes in which distraction was a factor, the agency said.
Additionally, driver distraction is a factor in 9% of all crashes, including those that result in property damage.
Rahul Chimata, another student spending summer break working on the project, said the idea is to get people to "to realize the danger distracted driving puts you in."
The students plan to roll out a prototype of their invention at Saturday's Raksha 5K Run/Walk and Vigil at the Purgatory Creek Recreation Area in Eden Prairie.
The event, now in its 15th year, is the brainchild of Vijay Dixit, the club's adviser. He has been on a crusade to end distracted driving since 2007 when his 19-year-old daughter, Shreya, was killed in a distracted driving crash. She was a passenger in a car that went off Interstate 94 and struck a bridge in Wisconsin.
The event's name comes from the Indian festival Raksha Bandhan that commemorates a centuries-old tradition in which a sister ties a ceremonial band on her brother's wrist and prays for his protection and safety. For motorists, Dixit said, Raksha is a bond between them to promise to drive distraction-free in order to protect each other and the community.
Though sorrow over his daughter's death lingers, Dixit said the students' invention is helping him heal.
"I'm the happiest I have been," he said.
A final version of the device may not be ready until November, but the students already are thinking about future enhancements. Those include pairing the device with an app that could show how much time a driver is distracted and a GPS component that over time could identify specific locations where a motorist becomes distracted.
But there is a more immediate goal: Get the low-cost device into the hands of anyone who wants it.
"Not everybody can afford $2,000 for life-saving technology," said student developer Aedin Yu.