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Fox Chapel teen wins $25K scholarship in Google Science Fair

| Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, 1:20 p.m.
Mihir Garimella, a 15-year-old sophomore at Fox Chapel High School, researched the way fruit flies perceived and responded to threats, and developed a computer program that would simulate that in a drone.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Mihir Garimella, a 15-year-old sophomore at Fox Chapel High School, researched the way fruit flies perceived and responded to threats, and developed a computer program that would simulate that in a drone.

A sophomore at Fox Chapel High School said Tuesday he was humbled that his fruit fly-inspired robots won top honors and a sizable scholarship at the Google Science Fair, an international competition held in California.

Mihir Garimella, 15, won the computer science prize and placed first in the 13-14 age group for building the small, flying robots equipped with sensors that allow them to dodge danger quickly. He said the concept for the robots could be used in emergency response situations and in other scenarios where a drone might need to avoid falling objects.

“I was thrilled and humbled,” Garimella said via text message, who will receive $25,000 toward college and a year's worth of mentoring from Google to take his project further. “I'm really excited about applying this project to things like search and rescue.”

Garimella's project was featured in the Trib last month when he was announced as one of 18 finalists for Google's international competition.

After a family trip to India and subsequent fruit fly invasion, Mihir was fascinated by the way flies could dodge a fly swatter. He decided to explore the possibility that flying drones could escape threats, such as flying or falling objects, in the same way as flies.

He researched the way fruit flies perceived and responded to threats, and developed a computer program that would simulate this in a drone.

As he demonstrates in a video, Mihir can take a piece of paper and move it quickly toward one of his flying robots. It whirs to life and moves out of the path of the paper.

He said he is looking forward to working with his new mentors.

The Google Science Fair drew thousands of applications. The finalists were from the United States, Canada, Ireland, Russia, India and elsewhere.

The grand prize, which includes $50,000 toward college and a trip to the Galapagos Islands, went to three Irish girls, who created a system to improve crop yields using bacteria. The full list of awards was announced on Monday.

Megha Satyanarayana is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7991 or megha@tribweb.com.

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