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Bishop Ireton Student Wins Grand Prize At NOVA Fab Lab Engineering and Design Contest

David DeCosta with his FoxWatch (Photo: Les Machado)

ALEXANDRIA, VA-Bishop Ireton High School student David De Costa was recently awarded the grand champion title at Northern Virginia Community College’s 6th biannual Design Challenge for his innovative product called “FoxWatch.” The product is designed to protect foxes, squirrels, deer, and other nocturnal animals by helping them avoid vehicle encounters. This aims to preserve local wildlife populations, enhance road safety, and reduce the economic costs associated with roadkill-related accidents.

This year’s engineering design challenge tasked students with designing a component of the habitat or a device that would improve the animal’s existing living conditions, help it rehabilitate, or better coexist with humans. Entries were evaluated on creativity, aesthetics, feasibility, and effectiveness. The competition welcomed middle school, high school, homeschool, and post-secondary students, allowing both individual participants and teams of up to three.

De Costa said that his winning design was inspired by his time spent in the car. “I often go driving with my mother and I notice a lot of roadkill,” said the rising junior. “So, I decided to create a product that utilizes the car’s headlights and a concave mirror to reflect light into wildlife, thereby preventing them from entering the road and becoming roadkill.”

De Costa’s “FoxWatch” consists of two concave parabolic mirrors: one shaped like a fox and the other resembling a traditional street warning sign. These mirrors reflect the headlights of oncoming cars to the sides of the road. The reflected light aims to momentarily dazzle the animal with brightness until the vehicle has passed. The mirrors are designed so that a car’s headlights are reflected at both a lower angle (to disrupt smaller animals like squirrels and foxes) and higher angle (to disrupt larger animals like deer), while posing no danger to the driver or other vehicles.

De Costa’s FoxWatch ({hoto: Les Machado)

“The FoxWatch was truly unique,” said Dr. Gillian Backus, a biology professor and Chair of the Physical Sciences Department at NOVA, who was one of the three judges. “We were looking for something original, and we all thought his project was really clever, practical, well-designed, aesthetically pleasing, and demonstrated good understanding of physics.”

Located at Northern Virginia Community College’s Manassas campus, the Fab Lab is a world-class, state-of-the-art makerspace available to all NOVA students, faculty, staff, and the greater education community. It opened in January 2020 to provide a work space to help develop STEM skills. The Fab Lab offers workshops, demonstrations, project collaborations with NOVA classes, tours, field trips, and special events to help enhance STEM learning.

De Costa shared that he has taken engineering classes at Bishop Ireton and plans to major in computer science or engineering in college. As the grand champion, he received a Prusa MK4 3D printer which he has already been putting to good use, printing some of his other engineering ideas. He also expressed his hope to meet with officials from Fairfax County soon to discuss implementing his novel idea.

Dr. Backus told the Zebra Press that she could easily envision the FoxWatch in the field. “It could be something that could really work,” Dr. Backus said. “It’s better than those warning or blinking signs that you see, warning you about deer ahead. By reflecting the headlights from a car, drivers would be warned by the glowing eyes of nocturnal animals, similar to when I’m walking with my dog and swinging my headlamp from side to side.”

In addition to Dr. Backus, David Tuohey, a senior process engineer at BAE Systems in Manassas, and Dr. Bonnie Lefbom, a scientist, leader, philanthropist, and veterinary cardiologist, judged the entries.

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