HOULTON, Maine — When Houlton’s Tim Witmer cooked up a concept for using solar-powered ventilation systems to provide clean air, little did he know his idea would be selected out of the thousands of contest entries received.
Witmer was notified this week that his concept beat out four other finalists in his division as part of a national contest sponsored by Toyota. For his efforts, Witmer won a 2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. The vehicles start at $37,490, according to the Toyota website.
Applicants had to put their ideas into a short essay, totaling not more than 750 characters, describing how Toyota’s current automotive technology could be used in other ways. There were five categories from which to choose — Total Human Model for Safety, or THUMS; Solar Powered Ventilation System; Hybrid Synergy Drive; Advanced Parking Guidance System; and Touch Tracer Display technology. A panel of company officials chose the top five ideas in each category from thousands submitted.
“The problem that my idea addressed has been getting a lot of media attention recently because Julia Roberts and Hillary Clinton have also been advocating some corrective measures of their own,” Witmer said.
Witmer chose the Solar Powered Ventilation System for his project. That division asked inventors to come up with a concept that used Toyota’s available system of using the sun’s rays to keep an electric fan running while the car is parked, so that the car’s internal temperature is not hotter than its surrounding exterior temperature.
The Houlton resident theorized that Toyota’s solar-powered fan technology could be used to draw smoke from huts, which would be “environmentally friendly, would improve the health of individuals who can’t afford health care and move families toward a lifestyle where energy could be collected from sustainable resources.”
In his concept presentation, Witmer theorized, “Many who live in impoverished areas still cook over indoor fires. The resulting smoke can be highly damaging to the lungs of the occupants in the hut, especially infants and young children. Respiratory issues can result similar to those caused by high exposure to cigarette smoke.
“Electric stoves might be a solution, but could require a hookup to the power grid and an added cost which a large percentage of households can’t afford. Toyota’s Solar Powered Ventilation System could be used to draw smoke from the building. This application would be environmentally friendly, would improve the health of individuals who can’t afford good health care, and move families toward a lifestyle where energy could be collected from sustainable sources.”
Witmer and his wife, Amy, along with the four other category winners, will be flown to Pittsburgh, Pa., for a three-day weekend of designing and further developing their concepts with the mechanical masterminds from the engineering firm Deeplocal at Carnegie Mellon University.
Witmer said he also plans to attend a Pittsburgh Pirates or Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.
“I need to include a huge thank-you to all those who voted,” Witmer said. “I know all the ladies at KeyBank voted, and F.A. Peabody had it on their blog. I’m sure there were a lot of others that I don’t even know about.”