Student inventor says he’s just getting started

Hunter Chase and his father Seth at their Gillette home with models of Hunter's award-winning invention, the "Honest Alien Piggy Bank." The 9-year-old student's invention can travel around a room, picking up coins from the floor. Hunter recently claimed the "Fan Favorite Award" at the Gillette College Startup Weekend. (Photo by Rhianna Gelhart, Gillette News Record)

GILLETTE — Hunter Chase isn’t one to rest on his laurels.

The fourth grader won the Fan Favorite Award at the fourth annual Gillette College Startup Weekend last month with his Honest Alien Piggy Bank, an invention he created to help kids save money.

It’s a piggy bank in name only. It’s bright green and has five eyes, neither of which are features of your normal pig. But it’s remote-controlled and can go around a room, picking up coins off the floor.

Rather than be satisfied with the award, 9-year-old Hunter, in true inventor fashion, already has a list of improvements he wants to make to the robotic piggy bank before it hits the market, which he estimates will be in 18 months to two years.

He also has a number of other inventions in the pipeline, including a water filter and a new form of transportation.

The wheels of invention never stop turning, but in Hunter’s case they might have trouble keeping up with him.

Hunter almost didn’t participate in Startup Weekend this year. But he decided at the last minute to go after some prompting from his dad, Seth Chase.

Seth, a lab manager at Atlas Carbon, volunteers at Area 59. He asked Hunter if he was sure he didn’t want to go to Startup Weekend. Seth had brought Hunter along to last year’s event and his son had enjoyed it, even though he wasn’t participating.

“I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll come,’” Hunter said.

On the way to the event, Hunter said he wanted to pitch an idea for kids, “because I’m a kid and I know what they want,” said the Paintbrush Elementary student.

Hunter was having trouble losing change and he doesn’t like picking it up and counting it. He also hates how loose coins and vacuums don’t get along.

“I hate when I’m vacuuming and it sucks up a coin and I have to reach my hand all the way in and pick it out,” he said. “It makes your chores so much longer.”

To solve these problems, he pitched the idea of a robot that picks up loose coins. He then had to convince other people to join his team, survey businesses around the community, build a prototype and make a final presentation to judges, all within a 72-hour span.

He went to different banks around town and surveyed them to see if there would be a market for this product. Hunter had a list of 10 questions that he asked bankers, specifically about children and their financial habits. One bank manager said that 90% of kids’ deposits are in coins.

Hunter and his team quickly put together a prototype using a robot, cardboard, a greeting card that plays music and googly eyes. They called it the Honest Alien Piggy Bank.

Hunter’s favorite part of the event was the final presentation in front of the judges. He has no problem talking to a big crowd.

“He answered all of the questions by himself,” said his mom, Lori. “He stood and talked to the judges, wasn’t afraid to get up there and tell them his ideas.”

“Look at the judges, not at the audience, and you’ll be perfectly fine,” Hunter said.

He estimates the Honest Alien Piggy Bank still needs some work before hitting the market. He has a number of improvements to make to it, including making it so that it doesn’t pick up lint from the floor.

He also wants the machine to differentiate between coins and other metal items. He’s thinking of having the robot scan the coin before picking it up.

And right now, the robot is remote-controlled. He wants to program it so that it can move around on its own like a Roomba.

“He just invents things, that’s what he likes to do,” Lori said.

Some of it comes from his dad, who shared some of the same interests growing up. But Hunter’s taken it to another level.

“I’d wanted to be an inventor for a long time as a kid, but I don’t remember building to this extent,” Seth said.

It’s only been in the last few years that inventing has become Hunter’s favorite hobby. It all started from a dream, he said.

“I had a dream that I had a flying pogo stick, and I flew to my aunt’s house,” he said.

When he woke up, he wrote it down the idea and thought it would be cool to make a flying pogo stick. Then he realized that with Area 59, he could probably work on it.

He already has some ideas on how to make it work. He said he’s already ruled out rockets, as they’re too expensive. The flying pogo stick would have to be powered by sound waves that are at a high enough frequency that humans and dogs can’t hear, “because that would be really annoying.”

“I just started coming (to Area 59) and falling in love with inventing,” he said. “Before, I wanted to be a firefighter. Now I want to be an inventor.”

One important aspect of the Honest Alien Piggy Bank is it teaches kids the importance of saving money. When kids put coins into the piggy bank, it plays a song. This was done to try to make fiscal responsibility fun.

During his final presentation, Hunter was asked why aren’t kids saving money?

“Because it’s boring,” he said.

He’s speaking from experience. He’s learned that to invent, you need money, whether it’s to pay for parts or to use the machines at Area 59 to print a prototype.

He has about $30 saved now, and don’t expect him to go asking his dad for money. Hunter’s already learned the importance of intellectual property.

“I want to be able to say it was my idea,” he said. “I don’t want my dad to pay for it all.”

“That’s the deal. If I pay for all the prototyping and all the work, then it’s my idea,” Seth said. “If he puts in his own money, he can have part-ownership.”

Hunter’s also using his inventive mind to help the less fortunate.

“Something people need is fresh water. It’s like a must-need item,” Hunter said.

So he’s working on a water filter with his dad. The idea is to take two 2-liter bottles and screw them onto something that will clean the water.

Atlas Carbon turns coal into activated carbon, which is one of the main elements of water filtration, Seth said. The two of them want to get clean water to people in third-world countries.

It’s still in the idea stages, Seth said, but Hunter has done some rapid prototyping and hopes to 3D print a solution soon. Hunter has a paper bag full of parts, including duct tape and plastic bottles that he’s tinkered with.

Seth said it’s difficult to get Hunter to focus on just one invention. His son is splitting his time between the robotic piggy bank, the water filter and a cornhole scoreboard.

Hunter has designs for inventions in his head — there are some that he’s forgotten — and he occasionally draws them, but his favorite part of the inventing process is the actual building.

Hunter said he just needs the materials to build the invention right in front of him. Then, he can’t ignore it.

“It’s haunting you until you work on it,” he said.

Inventing never stops, Hunter said, because inspiration could strike at any moment, adding that “you never know if you’ll think of a better invention.”