A 14-year-old Bethlehem College student has created a device that allow families to track whether elderly relatives are okay - no matter how far away they live.

Year 9 student James Zingel cleaned-up at the Bay of Plenty Science Fair, held in Rotorua last week, with his invention the 'Gran Check' monitor.

He was awarded the best junior technology award, best exhibit and the top prize - the NIWA Best in Fair Overall Winner.

The idea for the device came after his grandmother, who lives alone, moved to live in the country, he said.

Advertisement

His mother was concerned that she was unable to see if his "very independent" grandmother was okay, without calling or getting her to email every day.

"I read quite a lot of articles about elderly people dying and not being found for weeks," James said.

He started researching devices which would be able to let his mother know that his grandmother was okay but he found that they cost $200 plus.

CLEAN SWEEP: Year 9 student James Zingel cleaned-up at the Bay of Plenty Science Fair, held in Rotorua last week, with his invention the 'Gran Check' monitor. PHOTO/BEN FRASER
CLEAN SWEEP: Year 9 student James Zingel cleaned-up at the Bay of Plenty Science Fair, held in Rotorua last week, with his invention the 'Gran Check' monitor. PHOTO/BEN FRASER

Using a Raspberry Pi (a small computer board) programmed to send an email, he created a motion sensing device which had been placed inside her home. It cost $30 to make.

James taught himself computer coding and how to programme the Raspberry Pi through "a couple of good Youtube videos and websites".

"It contains an infrared sensor that detects large movement of heat, so her little dogs and curtains won't trigger it, and a Raspberry Pi to control the circuit."

Once a day when the Gran Check detects movement, it sends James' mother an email to notify her that James' grandmother is up and about.

"She loves it, she lives by herself, and always goes for long walks. She's very independent, and the device is not intrusive," James said.

"All my grandmother has to do is feed her dogs in the morning and all my mother has to do is check her emails."

He said the prototype had worked every single day since it had been put into service.

James said it took him four weekends to create the device, which he hoped could help other older people who had health issues while living alone, and their families.

"I really hope that someone takes this idea and runs with it, so we don't have this problem in future generations," he said.

"If I got a company involved I'm sure they could make loads of these devices."

Science teacher Sharon Gauld she was "very delightfully surprised" with James' win.

"He had a problem and needed to solve it," she said.