HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - The last few months have been a whirlwind for Diana Voronin, from meeting President Obama at the White House to competing for a $1M top prize on a national television show produced by Intel and Mark Burnett, whose successes include “Survivor,” “Shark Tank,” and “The Voice.”
This weekend, the 15-year-old Hillsborough High School sophomore will travel to California with her parents to showcase her invention at Intel’s Bay Area Maker Fair in San Mateo, along with other inventors and their creations.
Voronin invented a wristband device called “Motivate Me,” designed to help victims of strokes with their exercises. It can be programmed by therapists with specific exercise instructions and aid in the rehabilitation process. Using an accelerometer, "Motivate Me" records movements in the rehab regimen, which helps therapists review the client’s progress and whether they are performing the exercises properly.
Voronin said her inspiration for "Motivate Me" comes from her grandfather, a stroke victim, who found it difficult to exercise during his recovery.
She sent in an application and was selected as one of the 24 finalists to compete on “America’s Greatest Makers,” produced by Emmy-winning producer Burnett, who collaborated with Intel on the high-tech reality show, utilizing a panel of judges, including celebrities.
That’s where NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal enters the picture.
“Shaq was one of the judges for my pitch on the show, I got a lot of feedback and encouragement from him,” Voronin said.
“I was a little bit nervous but he came up to me and said I was doing great; he told me he has three daughters and he encouraged me to relax.
“One of his biggest criticisms, and that was across the board from all the judges was that my prototype was too clumsy,” she continued. “It looks like a small box. That’s hard for me to fix right now; it’s hard to slim down the components with the tools I have at my house but it is something that I will work on, functionality; I know I will have to slim it down eventually,” she added.
Intel mentors will continue to advise Voronin through the summer.
"We have an extremely diverse cast from 15 years old to 59 with ideas that are as unique as the teams themselves," Burnett said prior to the broadcast of the first episode on April 5th. "We are looking to come up with the next big thing in wearable tech and smart connected devices, and these competitors will have to convince our judges that their product is just that. The competition will inspire a whole new audience of potential makers."
"America's Greatest Makers"featured 24 teams from across the country in head-to-head competition to present game-changing technology. Each team pitched their wearable or smart device idea to the judging panel consisting of Intel CEO Brian Krzanich; business and financial expert Carol Roth; comedian, serial entrepreneur and co-host of truTV’s Hack My Life Kevin Pereira; and one of the celebrity guests.
O’Neal, whose career included World Championships and a string of All-Star appearances playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and other NBA teams, is used to winning, but when asked who she favored - President Obama or O’Neal - the basketball star finished second.
“I never would have imagined I’d get to meet either of them,” Voronin said. “Both are very nice people, but I would have to say the president was very encouraging; he talked about his passion for education and it was really cool to go inside the White House.”
Her appearance on “America’s Greatest Makers” led to the invitation from the White House to participate in the VI annual White House Science Fair on April 13th. She was one of 100 students invited because of their exceptional accomplishments in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Obama greeted each one of the participants in a reception line, making small talk as he greeted each person.
“He basically said ‘Nice to meet you,’ but during his remarks to all of us, it was validating, to actually be there, just to present my project at the White House, that was inspiring in and of itself, having the president recognize the achievements of all of the kids in the room.
“When do you ever get to experience something like that,” she added. “The whole experience inspired me to go home and work ever harder on my own project.”
Voronin was eliminated in one of the early rounds; the top five finishers each took home $100,000 and the eventual winner, $1 million.
The final episode will be broadcast Tuesday, May 24th at 9 p.m. on TBS.
But it wasn’t about the money for Voronin.
“Even though I didn’t move forward, I wasn’t in this for the money,” she said. “The experience to work with engineers from Intel and business people from Berkeley, all really influential people, I learned a lot from that, about technology and how to present myself.”
Between the TV studio and the White House, she also had the opportunity to meet other young inventors, celebrities, diplomats, scientists, top-tier business leaders and tech-industrialists – even Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
Voronin’s hobbies include running cross-country, playing the violin, sewing, knitting, writing, and reading.
College is a definite; she hasn’t decided yet whether to major in computer science or electrical engineering,but as she told the producers of “America’s Greatest Makers,” she wants to create things that can actually impact people.