Milwaukee Catholic students patent microchip to monitor pets

A group of young adults from the Milwaukee Archdiocese have secured a patent for an invention they developed while at St. Peter Middle School. Called “The Friendchip,” the device helps monitor a pet’s state of health and provides information to the pet owner and veterinarians. Now, the team has claimed the rights to the technology, but they still need to decide what to do with it. 

In 2016, the students came together as St. Peter’s robotics team, the “Brickbusters.” The team brainstormed ways to help both people and animals in order to compete in the LEGO League Animal Allies Challenge. Once they had decided on the idea for a chip that could help pets communicate with their owners, a long period of research began.

The research

According to Catholic Herald, the group was instructed on research practices by biomedical engineering students at Marquette University, and they learned to solder circuit boards from Milwaukee School of Engineering. Their technological education was advanced by visits to a Nano Lab at UW-Madison, where they were instructed on the minutiae of microchips. 

On the animal side of things, the team spent time in animal sanctuaries and shelters, where they learned about the needs of animals and pets. They learned the challenges presented by caring for large animals from a Milwaukee County Zoo veterinarian and those of caring for small animals from Lake Geneva Animal Hospital. 

The Friendchip

That a group of junior high school students took such an initiative to broaden their education is impressive in its own right, but even more so is how they drew all this information together for the invention.

Using what they learned of the needs of animals and the functions of microchips, they designed a tiny chip that is capable of monitoring temperature, blood sugar levels, and movement of an animal. This information is then communicated to interested parties, such as pet owners, veterinarians, or zookeepers. The technology has the potential to save lives, with immediate notifications if any problems occur. 

Biz Times reports that the invention was well received at the St. Louis World Lego League Tournament, where it earned 3rd place among some 32,000 entries

The patent

The patent process was a long, six-year endeavor that the students weren’t sure would succeed. They were largely helped by Nicholas Zepnick, a patent attorney with Foley and Lardner, LLP, who helped the students pro bono. 

On the Foley website, Zepnick commented: 

“It is a special honor and a recognition that this team created technology that no one else had thought of. We are excited by the big things to come for these students and are humbled to have been able to help them achieve their vision.”

Of the patent, team member and now high school senior Mary Schrieber said: 

“Hopefully, our experience will inspire other young entrepreneurs to pursue their own ideas,” she said. “In regards to the patent itself, we plan to continue slowly sharing our invention with the professionals we meet at our respective universities while we all pursue our own education and careers. While we don’t have any specific goals for it, we hope that, someday, the networks we form will help us make our patent a reality.”

The team has no firm plans on what to do with the Friendchip, but with the patent secured, they may all profit from its development into a commercial product. As for the future, only time will tell. 

Read the full story at Catholic Herald. 

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Stephen Wamukota

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