If there was a way for trees to talk, then a big, old fir residing in Ames, Iowa, would tell a magnificent story about six Girl Scouts who meet in its branches and last year hatched a splendid idea.
Today, the team of six who call themselves "The Flying Monkeys" were in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Patent Office to be recognized for their idea -- a prosthetic hand device that helped a 3-year-old to write.
"It's a really big deal to be getting a patent," said 13-year-old Kate Murray a.k.a. "Monkey 2." "Almost no one at our age has one and it's very special. It means our invention is really worth it."
"They came up with what turned out to be a heck of a project," said Kate's mother, Melissa Murray, and one of the team's coaches.
A Project for Danielle
In 2010, the girls entered the worldwide FIRST LEGO League science and engineering challenge, which focused on robotics applied to medical issues. Having decided to work on hand and arm prosthetics, they met with prosthetics manufacturers and doctors.
After Melissa Murray met Dale Fairchild of Duluth, Ga., online and found out that Fairchild's daughter Danielle, 3, had been born without fingers on her right hand, the Flying Monkeys decided to dedicate their concept to assisting her.
The project took the girls at least 180 hours of work and research between the fall of 2010 and spring 2011.
Using Danielle's measurements, they were able to create what they call "the BOB-1," made from moldable plastic, a pencil grip and Velcro. The device cost them less than $10 to build.
Melissa Murray said the contest judges were stunned with the team's invention. "They didn't know what to do with them [the girls]," she said.
The girls won the $20,000 FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award from the X Prize Foundation in April, in addition to a provisional patent.
"I never thought I would have a patent," said 12-year-old Mackenzie Grewell, a.k.a. "Monkey 4." "When I first found out, I didn't even know what the word meant."
Melissa Murray said they used the money for patenting the BOB-1 and creating a slightly improved version called BOB-1.2. She said it could take up to three years to secure the final patent.