Pupils on course for success


At the moment, there’s no escape from media enquiries for Myrijam Stoetzer (14) and Paul Foltin (15) of the Franz Haniel Grammar School. Ever since they won first prize in “Jugend forscht” – a Germany-wide competition for young researchers – there has been a huge amount of interest in the two pupils and their invention.

Controlling a wheelchair just by moving your eyes? Myrijam and Paul’s invention makes this possible. The pair developed a recognition software tool, called the “Eyetracker”, at the Franz Haniel Grammar School’s robotics club. Their invention is intended to help people paralysed by upper cervical vertebrae damage or diseases such as multiple sclerosis to regain their mobility. Wheelchair users put on a pair of spectacles. The Eyetracker is attached to them and films the eye. Patients control the direction of travel of the wheelchair with their eye movements. “We want to give paralysed people the opportunity to move without help from others. The Eyetracker is meant to help them regain a degree of freedom”, explained Myrijam.

Robotics – a hot topic

The 14-year-old came up with the idea of developing this kind of technology in a biology lesson when they were talking about the eye as the most important sensory organ in the human body. She and Paul then honed this idea in the robotics club. This club was set up at the Franz Haniel Grammar School five years ago, and soon became the most popular item on the timetable for many pupils. Its main activities are designing, building and programming robots. “Robotics has become a real trend. However, we were one of the first schools in Germany to set up a club devoted to it. The children are hugely enthusiastic about robot technology, and their inventions – especially Myrijam and Paul’s Eyetracker, of course – are outstanding”, commented the Principal, Norbert Thummes.

To Ludwigshafen for the national final

The jury of “Jugend forscht” was just as impressed by the invention. In the regional competition in February, Myrijam and Paul qualified for the national competition with a miniature version of their wheelchair and the accompanying spectacles. In the two intervening months, they enhanced their idea so that a real wheelchair could be controlled with the technology. This dedication impressed the jury, and the pupils were invited to the national final in Ludwigshafen. Here, Myrijam and Paul saw off the competition once again: German Federal President Joachim Gauck and Federal Education Minister Prof. Johanna Wanka chose them as the national champions, and presented them with prize money of €2,500. “We want to use some of the money to enhance our invention”, Paul told us. “We are currently receiving lots of enquiries from paralysed people who are interested in the recognition software. Now, we aim to meet one of them to install the system in his wheelchair.” The two young researchers are also making their invention available free of charge on the internet. “It is bad that many people have to live with a disease like that. That’s why it’s important to us to make their lives at least a bit easier”, Myrijam explained. To ensure that everyone can afford the Eyetracker, Paul and Myrijam have tried to produce the technology as cost-effectively as possible. “All essential components for the Eyetracker would cost around €200”, said Paul.

Further success stories

As well as Myrijam and Paul, other pupils of the Franz Haniel Grammar School have produced outstanding achievements: Stina Jebary (14) came first and her classmate Laura Becker (14) took second place in the German National Finance Competition. The competition, of which Haniel is a sponsor, promotes the general financial education of pupils through practical tasks.