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Beaverton PCC student Eric Thomas is proving to be an effective hack

His invention warns users about impending lightning strikes


Beaverton's Eric Thomas, 22 and a Portland Community College student, is hacking his way to a better future.SUBMITTED PHOTO - Beaverton's Eric Thomas (left), a PCC student who joined with his 'Brain Storm' team to win a recent 'hackathon' sponsored by Portland State‚ works with fellow student Jordan Nickerson in Sylvania's MakerSpace.

Thomas and his team — aptly named Brain Storm — recently won Best of Show at the Portland hackathon called 'Hack to the Future,' held at Portland State's Business Accelerator March 7-9.

The team created a product named 'Storm Safe,' a personal storm-warning device with real-time lightning detection within 40 kilometers and GPS-based weather alerts to keep users safe as they walk, hike or bike. The students split a cash prize of $1,000 for creating the lightning detector.

“We sold it as a protective device for industry and the general public,” Thomas said. “With enough of these devices spread out and connected through an online logger, we could triangulate the location of (lighting) strikes. Users could use the data or warnings to move away from the strikes and get to safety.”SUBMITTED PHOTO - Beaverton resident and PCC student Eric Thomas and his 'Brain Storm' team created the device named StormSafe during a recent 'hackathon' sponsored by Portland State University.

The Portland hackathon was sponsored by the online community Hackster.io, which is traveling across the country with a DeLorean made to look like the one from the film “Back to the Future.” The idea was for students to hack the DeLorean, and the road show will visit 10 cities around the nation.

Team Brain Storm’s detector served as sort of a “flux capacitor” for the car. Thomas said the character in the film could have used their lightning detector to find the needed energy from a lightning bolt to power the DeLorean.

“If you are Marty McFly stuck in 1955 and you don’t have any plutonium, you are going to have to electrically procure 1.21 gigawatts,” Thomas said. “With this device, you could find your local lightning storm, drive into the storm, get struck and make it ‘back to the future.’”

Not to be outdone, PCC students Nick and CJ Vandendries won the $500 second-place prize from AutoDesk for their project called 'Anti-Text,' which deactivates the texting capabilities on cell phones when their users are driving — another innovation by PCC students to help save lives.

This is just the latest news in a long list of happenings in the hackathon world. PCC recently hosted hackathons at its Rock Creek and Sylvania campuses, both organized by Thomas.

Thomas, who is studying mechanical engineering, said he is working with Portland State, Oregon State, the University of Oregon and other colleges to achieve Oregon’s first educational cubesat. Cubesats are 1,000-cubic-centimeter-sized satellites that are typically launched from the International Space Station.

“NASA or another rocket would take it to the station where it would be queried for an ejection (into orbit),” Thomas said. “PCC will be able to get involved and announcements will be made when projects are available.”

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