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A glowing success

West Linn High School grad appears on 'America's Greatest Makers'

SUBMITTED PHOTO: ZACH VORHIES - After originally auditioning for Shark Tank, Zach Vorhies was selected to appear on a new show, 'America's Greatest Makers.' The show debuted April 5 and follows teams of inventors competing for a $1 million prize.Zach Vorhies still thinks about the accident.

When Vorhies was growing up in West Linn, one of his childhood friends lost his right arm in a bicycle crash. During a nighttime ride, the car struck his friend and sent him flying into a tree.

Maybe, just maybe, that friend would still have his right arm if the driver could have seen him turning.

It was with that in mind that Vorhies, a 1999 West Linn High School graduate, created the glow-in-the-dark “Turn Signal Glove” for cyclists in April 2013 — a breakthrough that prompted him to leave his dream job at Google and become a full-time inventor for his own company, Zackees. Nearly three years later, Vorhies was accepted as a contestant on the new TBS show, “America’s Greatest Makers,” which pits teams of “makers” against each other in a quest for a $1 million grand prize.

Production was split in two phases, and the show made its debut April 5.

“The experience was amazing,” Vorhies said. “I got to compete against some of the best people in the world. Every one of them was there for a reason.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO: ZACH VORHIES - Vorhies left his dream job at Google to start his own company, Zackees, in 2013.

Vorhies’ story began four years ago, when he was still a senior software engineer at Google.

“I discovered this thing called an ‘arduino,’ which was an easy-to-program computer that could be connected to sensors and motors,” Vorhies said. “It was then that I discovered that I could create things in the real world. I was instantly addicted, and just started making all kinds of things for my own home — automated lighting for my house that was a blend of art and useful technology.”

Automated lighting evolved into what Vorhies calls “interactive clothing,” and soon Vorhies had a prototype for the Turn Signal Glove. The glove is exactly as it sounds: a glow-in-the-dark turn signal for cyclists riding at night.

“As a cyclist myself, I knew that I was onto something big,” Vorhies said. “I remember when I made the first prototype of the Turn Signal Glove, I thought of my young neighbor, and realized that if he had had this invention, then maybe on that fateful night the car could have seen him.

“It was at that moment that I felt the gravity of what being a maker meant.”

In August 2013, Vorhies left his job and worked to bring the product to market. When he created his own company, he called it “Zackees” for both personal and practical reasons.”It was named after myself loosely, because I think the name is awesome,” Vorhies said. “And the other name of ‘Future Tech Wear’ didn’t test well with anyone.”

In September 2015, Vorhies auditioned for season eight of the popular investment-based television show “Shark Tank.” Soon thereafter, a casting associate contacted him about a new show created by famed British producer Mark Burnett.

“America’s Greatest Makers,” she told Vorhies, would follow makers as they created a product and brought it to the open market.

Vorhies happened to be working on Zackees’ second major product, “Fashion Glow Jewelry,” at the time, and he jumped at the opportunity to be part of the new show.”You know I’m perfect for this show, right?” he told the associate. “The timing couldn’t be better.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO: ZACH VORHIES - Vorhies first invention, the Turn Signal Glove, is meant to make it safer for cyclists riding at night.

Eventually, Vorhies made it all the way to the final casting round, which would include Burnett himself. He brought with him the “Discoface,” a facemask with 438 “super bright LEDs” that create visual patterns. “It’s mesmerizing and hypnotic,” Vorhies said.

He was about to make his pitch when a production assistant told him he couldn’t bring the facemask in.

“It threw my whole pitch off, and I had to improvise,” Vorhies said. “However, I was able to mention the fact that I had this mask during my pitch to Mark Burnett and Intel (a partner with the show).”

“Well, why didn’t you bring it in to the pitch?” Burnett asked.

When Vorhies explained, Burnett yelled for the assistant to bring the mask in.

“I could tell by the faces of everyone that they were very impressed,” Vorhies said. “I high fived myself. I knew from their response that I was in.”

Now, with filming over and the show airing on Tuesday nights on TBS, Vorhies is busy trying to push Fashion Glow Jewelry into the marketplace.

“Our Fashion Glow Jewelry is a piece of jewelry which is like normal jewelry except that it’s self-illuminating,” Vorhies said. “The jewelry also protects users with the including of a ‘rape whistle’ which, at a flick of a switch, sends out an alert and shares your GPS location with friends. Other features we are envisioning in the future include the ability to take calls through the pendent, tell time and know whether an incoming phone call is from a co-worker or your parents based on the visual illuminating patterns that emanate from the gems within.”

Such jewelry requires an artist’s touch, however, and Zackees continues to search for artists to contribute designs.

“The future for us in the next year is to push our electronic jewelry into the market place and recruit artists that want to bring their own art and fuse it with our electronics,” he said. “Although we have our own artistic aspirations for electronic jewelry, we’ve found many other artists for elegant metal work bring amazing talents to the table. It’s clear to us that the jewelry market has wanted illuminating elements but nobody has been able to deliver that.”

To find out more go to zackees.com