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Romanian Teen Wins $75,000 for Designing Self-Driving Car Tech

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The top three winners of The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

Eesha Khare (left), Ionut Budisteanu (center), and Henry Wanjune Lin claimed the top prizes at the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Arizona. Budisteanu’s work toward developing a self-driving car earned the 19-year-old Romanian inventor the $75,000 top prize. Credit: Intel/Chris Ayers.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair has awarded a 19-year-old Romanian student with its $75,000 first-place prize for using artificial intelligence to create a model of a low-cost self-driving car. The teenager, Ionut Budisteanu, a computer engineering student at Liceul Tehnologic Oltchim in Ramnicu Valcea, Romania, won the Gordon E. Moore Award, named for Intel’s co-founder, on Saturday. Budisteanu received the award for designing software that can pilot a low-cost, self-driving vehicle, technology that would reduce fatal accidents, 90% of which are caused by human error, Sid Perkins writes for Science News.

The teen’s design uses webcams that can detect people, other vehicles, and large objects like trees. A 3-D laser in a vehicle measures the distance to those items, and software uses that information to adjust the speed of the vehicle, Perkins writes. Onboard software also helps to recognize such things as road signs, lane markers, traffic lanes and curbs, and adds any newly discovered items to a database that would be accessible by all cars connected to the Internet.

Perkins adds:

Society for Science & the Public, which publishes Science News, created the fair in 1950 and still runs it. More than one-third of the roughly 1,600 Intel ISEF finalists received awards on May 17 totaling more than $4 million.

The annual science competition attracts some of the world’s most talented young scientists. This year’s finalists were selected from the winners of science fairs in more than 70 countries, regions and territories. Almost 30 percent of the finalists either have a patent on their work or intend to apply for one.

The Fort Mill Times reports that Budisteanu said his work addresses a major global issue. Worldwide, in 2004, car accidents cause 2.5 million deaths, and 87% of those crashes resulted from driver error. The young scientist’s system would cost only $4,000. The first-prize winner said he wants to become a professor and university researcher and focus on work to help the world, including on making “a very cheap self-driving car.”

In another vehicle-technology-related invention, one of the $5,000 prize winners among the 17 “Best of Category” winners was Evie Sobczak, 16, of St. Petersburg, Florida, who found a way to grow algae and break them down to extract their oil, which could be used a fuel, Science News writes. She said this might help to make biofuels more available, because her techniques boosted oil production by as much as 20% as compared with existing methods.

The Fort Mills Times writes that about 1,600 young scientist were chosen to compete in the Fair, and were selected from 433 affiliate fairs in more than 70 countries, regions, and territories.

In addition to the first-place price, the Fair awarded $50,000 each to two other students for their work. Eesha Khare, 18, of Saratoga, California, received the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award for developing a tiny device that fits inside cell phone batteries and allows them to charge within 20 to 30 seconds. Her invention has potential applications for car batteries as well, Fort Mill Times notes.

And Henry Lin, 17, of Shreveport, Louisiana, also won the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award. “By simulating thousands of clusters of galaxies, Henry has provided scientists with valuable new data, allowing them to better understand the mysteries of astrophysics: dark matter, dark energy and the balance of heating and cooling in the universe’s most massive objects,” Fort Mill Times writes.

Here is a video of the announcement of the winners, and an interview with first-prize winner Ionut Budisteanu:


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