Campus: Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo -- March 28, 2000

Cal Poly Engineering Senior Takes First in National Contest

Fred Frith, a Cal Poly electrical engineering senior, won first place in the national Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Biotech Contest with a proposal for a device that allows deaf or hearing-impaired football players to "hear" a quarterback's signals.

The winning device is a five-button keyboard that quarterbacks can use to send digital vibrating codes to a hearing-impaired player.

"When a certain module vibrates, the player knows the quarterback's call," Frith said.

The challenge of the contest was to develop and present a concept using an electrical, electronic, biomedical, or electro-optics device to improve a disabled person's ability to manage tasks that usually require assistance.

Frith's idea for his proposal, P.U.N.T. (Put Us iN Touch), came when he was watching ESPN's coverage of Brannon Reece, a high school linebacker from the Texas School for the Deaf who broke the national record for most yards gained by a hearing-impaired player.

In an interview, Reece's coach explained the difficulty in using Reece in offense with audible calls and how unwilling college recruiters are to make adjustments for a deaf player.

"I began to think about how a quarterback's audible calls could be adapted so that a hearing-impaired player could read them," Firth said."

Frith, a Reedley native who played football in high school and junior college, says having played football helped him understand how the device needed to work on the field.

Frith's senior project advisor, Professor David Braun, encouraged him to enter. The competition also included entries from Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Long Beach, and the University of Southern California.

Frith expects to complete his Cal Poly classes in either the spring or fall. When not on campus, he works with Orbital Sciences at Vandenberg Air Force Base assembling and testing small commercial rockets for communication research.

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