Amogh Kashyap has yet to learn to drive.
At 14, he is still nearly two years from being eligible for a Maryland driver’s license, but the incoming Urbana High School freshman has already identified an issue for teenage drivers.
Even better, he may have a solution.
Amogh created and coded a program that uses a camera to track a driver’s attention. The camera looks to see what direction a person faces. If they turn away for at least 2 seconds, such as looking down at a phone, the radio or a friend, the program sends a notification to their parents saying the teen driver is distracted. The device also beeps to warn drivers that they are not paying attention to the road.
Right now, the program is in a prototype phase. The camera is fitted in a cardboard box, covered in aluminum foil, with a hole poked out for the tiny camera. It sits on the dashboard of the car. The program earned Amogh the title of 3M Young Scientist State Merit Winner, the second time in a row he’s received the honor. Last year, he worked on a project involving a shoe that tracked the distance a person walked.
The 3M Young Scientist competition is a science competition for middle school students. Amogh was in eighth grade when he submitted his projects. There are 19 other state merit winners, with 10 of them competing for a chance at $25,000 and mentorship from 3M. Amogh was not selected for the final competition.
The idea behind Amogh’s distracted driving device is twofold. Amogh attended a conference at the Smithsonian on artificial intelligence where participants were challenged to create an idea to help. One of his friends recently crashed their car, and Amogh wanted to tackle distracted driving among teens. In the video he submitted to the 3M competition, he said that he read multiple articles about crashes caused by distracted driving.
Nearly 1,000 people are injured and nine people die each day in a crash involving a distracted driver, Jeanette Tejada de Gomez, senior specialist with AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in an email. Distracted driving is the third-leading cause of fatal crashes in the United States, behind speeding and driving under the influence.
A June Traffic Safety Culture Index found that 41.3 percent of surveyed drivers admitted they read texts or email while driving in the past 30 days, with 32.1 percent saying they typed on their phones while driving in the past 30 days, Tejada de Gomez said in the email.
Distracted driving increased with the popularity and necessity of the cellphone, said Maureen Vogel, a spokeswoman for the National Safety Council. The National Safety Council usually looks at technology that focuses on call or message blocking. Although the National Safety Council did not see Amogh’s device and could not endorse it, Vogel said that kind of technology could help combat distracted driving.
“Distracted driving has been a problem for many years, and we do feel at the National Safety Council that that technology got us into this mess, and technology has the promise to get us out of it,” Vogel said.
In 2018, Frederick County had 2,190 crashes involving a distracted driver. Of those crashes, seven were fatal, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation. In all of Maryland, there were 57,099 crashes with a distracted driver in 2018, according to the data.
Many new cars have distracted driving features added, including automatic brakes and lane departure warning. Other tech companies designed devices that are mostly focused on keeping people from using their phones while driving.
Samsung, Apple and other phone companies have settings on their phones so that once a phone is connected to a car’s Bluetooth, they will respond to incoming text messages with a notice that the recipient is driving.
Amogh entered the Young Scientist contest last year and decided to do it again. He spent the previous summer learning how to code in the Python language, something he learned entirely on his own, he said. In May, he submitted the device to the Young Scientist competition.
The program has its flaws. Anytime someone looks away from the front of the car, even to reverse, the program sends a notification, which makes sense since Amogh does not drive yet. As distracted driving continues to play a heavy role in crashes in Maryland and the country, the device could one day bring an innovative way to tackle the issue.
Amogh’s family bankrolled the project, said his father, Amith Kashyap, but they did not help him learn or write the code for the device.
“My wife and I are extremely proud of him,” he said.
It took Amogh between three and four months to code the project, he said. He could not pick a favorite part of designing the distracted driving program.
Amogh and his father plan to pitch the device to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
“It would really help a lot of teenage drivers if it would become a reality,” Amith Kashyap said.
Once Amogh learns to drive, he can expect to have his own device in his car, his father said.
Working on the project taught Amogh about safe driving.
“I’ve learned that I’m not going to use my phone while driving,” he said.