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Boy Scouts bring ingenuity to EurekaFest

June 21, 2010

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Prototypes
The Boy Scouts are working to stem America’s science and engineering brain drain.

Last week, 38 Scouts, most of them from Eastern Massachusetts, were among the first to receive the Inventing badge, the first merit badge introduced by the Boy Scouts of America since 1992.

The badge, developed by the BSA and the Lemelson-MIT Program, is awarded to Scouts who can create simple, but elegant, engineering solutions to everyday problems.

The Lemelson-MIT Program, which doles out prizes to support the work of students and midcareer inventors, introduced the new merit badge as part of its EurekaFest (web.mit.edu/invent/eurekafest.html) event in Cambridge and Boston.

Each of the Boy Scouts’ projects was prompted by a problem a Scout identified on his own.

For example, Chris Morse of Troop 119 in Lexington invented a hiking boot with a flashlight built into its toe, so the wearer can avoid tripping over roots and rocks after dark without having to hold a flashlight.

Another Boy Scout, Cameron Mac Leod of Troop 304 in Belmont, was bothered that his grandfather — whenever he lowered the wheelchair ramp from his van for Cameron’s grandmother — had to race to the other side of the van to prevent other vehicles from plowing into it.

The solution: Cameron and his grandfather machined an aluminum device that causes a warning flag to pop-up as the ramp goes down.

Leigh Estabrooks, invention education officer at the Lemelson-MIT Program, wants Boy Scouts to know that if their projects look like they were made with help from their folks, well, that is the whole point.

“All of [the Inventing merit badge recipients’] families were involved,’’ said Estabrooks. “Hopefully, and with the families’ help, we’re getting kids interested and having confidence in their own capabilities.’’

Android smartphones

Featherlight Aria gets the picture

If you’re anxiously awaiting to hear whether your mobile phone company will be offering the iPhone 4, I am right there with you.

But that does not mean we should give up on the promise of Android 2.1, or the featherweight smartphones running the Google operating system, such as HTC’s new Aria smartphone.

I enjoyed playing with the gorgeous, lightweight Aria last week, downloading apps and sharing pics via Facebook and Twitter, which I took with the phone’s excellent 5-megapixel camera.

The Aria has a 3.2-inch capacitive touchscreen, the same size as that on the first Google Android smartphone, HTC’s Jurassic-looking T-Mobile G1.

By contrast, the Aria is 4 inches long, weighs just 4 ounces, and is half as thick as the G1. (Granted, the Aria does not have the same, slide-out keypad as its earliest predecessor.)

The Aria, which looks like a palm-sized version of HTC’s Incredible, is elegantly designed.

It has the same backlight, touch-sensitive controls and optical joystick on its face as the Incredible.

The phone’s volume control and power buttons are on the side and the top of the device.

You pluck off the phone’s “soft-touch’’ plastic backing to access its SIM card and microSD card slots (memory storage up to 32GB) and battery.

The Aria, a 3G and Wi-Fi device, is available for about $130 from AT&T, after rebate and with a two-year contract, which must include a data plan.