Students from Gahanna Middle School East and Columbus Academy are competing today (June 18) in the Washington, D.C., with a device to keep drowsy drivers from falling asleep at the wheel.

Students from Gahanna Middle School East and Columbus Academy are competing Thursday, June 18 in the Washington, D.C., with a device to keep drowsy drivers from falling asleep at the wheel.

The 13th annual eCybermission competition is part of a Web-based science, technology, engineering and math program sponsored by the U.S. Army and administered by the National Science Teachers Association. It encourages students in grades 6-9 to develop solutions to real-world challenges in their communities.

Gahanna is being represented by Team Driver Alert members Julia Bray, Luke Clay, Ashton Cofer and Grace Harrison. Their adviser is Haruna Cofer, Ashton's mother.

The team's application uses a Mio Alpha heart monitor to detect a drop in heart rate -- the first sign of drowsiness -- and alert the driver. When it detects a drop in heart rate, it sounds an alarm, according to Haruna Cofer.

Luke, 13, said his dad was driving home from a high school football game a few years ago and was very tired.

"He drifted into another lane," he said. "The only way he survived was because a trucker put on his horn. That experience was eye opening to me and my teammates. It opened us up to drowsy driving."

He said the team tried out the watch-like device on different subjects while they were falling asleep.

"We tested on our parents, siblings, family and friends to get variables out of the way," he said. "When we looked at initial solutions, none used pre-sleep indicators so they were all too late. Blinking is unreliable and relies on a Web cam. There were a few failures before we came up with the heart-monitor aspect."

Julia, 13, who's going into eighth grade at Middle School East, said she and her teammates worked collaboratively on the project.

"I took lead on consulting with experts and answering questions about the project," she said. "I also worked on the graphic design of posters and the presentations."

She estimates it would cost $30 to $50 each to manufacture the device.

Grace, 12, a Columbus Academy student, said she documented a lot of the research for the team.

Ashton Cofer, 13, said his team first qualified at state with its project and then regionals before advancing to nationals.

Each member already has won $4,000 in U.S. savings bonds, and they will compete for $5,000 each at nationals.

In addition to detecting when a driver falls asleep, the team wanted to find something to keep drivers awake.

"We found virtual passenger," Cofer said. "It can interact with the driver by asking questions."

He said the virtual passenger could be connected through Bluetooth wireless technology.

Haruna Cofer said representatives of Mio Global, the company that makes the heart monitor, were excited about the new application of technology.

"They provide it as a fitness band," she said. "More and more people have one of these watches."

Mio Global's representatives have been so impressed that they have helped the team file for a provisional patent, Cofer said.

The students will present their project during the eCybermission national judging and educational event today via a live webcast of the national showcase from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at ustream.tv/channel/ecybermission-national-showcase. Viewers may vote for their favorite team during the national showcase at nsta.org/VoteeCyber15 between 1:30 and 8 p.m.

A total of 4,280 entries were in the eCybermission program this year.