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Teens invent social distancing device for students with autism

August 9, 2021


Following their virtual presentation at Lemelson-MIT’s EurekaFest in July, four members of Smithtown West High School’s InvenTeam on Long Island spoke with PBS NewsHour EXTRA’s intern CiCi Curran about their invention, the Personal Distance Monitor (PDM). PDM is a device used to monitor social distancing for students with autism spectrum disorders, particularly useful during COVID.

Eurekafest is the culminating event for Lemelson-MIT’s InvenTeam program in which 13 high school classes in the U.S. invent a solution to a serious problem over the course of a year. They are awarded a grant of up to $10,000 to work on their invention. Students experience all the ups and downs of the invention process including testing and retesting their invention, working with industry experts and beneficiaries (those individuals who the invention will help or benefit) and pitching their idea to key stakeholders. Some InvenTeams have even received a U.S. patent for their invention.

Five Facts

  • What is the Personal Distance Monitor?
  • How does it help those who use it and those who interact with people who use it? 
  • Where in their invention did the Smithtown InvenTeam receive constructive criticism? How did they respond?
  • What did the Smithtown students think of Eurekafest?
  • What advice did the students give to future inventors out there? 

Focus Questions

Focus questions: What was the approach the InvenTeam took to getting feedback about their invention? What did they say about advice for improving inventions in general? 

Media literacy: This message was conveyed through an interview. What other forms of media might help a viewer understand the invention process and the students’ experience at Eurekafest more? 

For More


  • To see blog entries from the team throughout their process, check out this website. 
  • For general information on the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam program and how your students can apply, read more see here
  • See EXTRA’s 25 invention lesson plans here