It's hard to get a patent. This Crystal Lake South grad already holds two.
Recent Crystal Lake South graduate Caroline Rausch has the distinction of helping design and build prototypes for two patented products.
The ideas: A survival kit to help someone trapped in a car during a flood escape, and a machine to sort tennis balls and check their pressure.
Hundreds of thousands of utility and design patent applications are filed yearly, with half being approved, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The process can be arduous, requiring multiple revisions and typically taking years.
Rausch began working on her first product in eighth grade with six other girls on a robotics team named Fruit Salad, for a contest. The team developed the survival kit and applied for a provisional patent.
Within a year, the girls finalized their design and filed for a utility patent, which took two years to gain approval with the help of patent lawyer Stephen Scherrer of Crystal Lake.
"We didn't expect it to be that fast," said Rausch, 18.
She and her robotics teammates are considering selling the patent to AAA and having the company market it.
Rausch is even more excited about the tennis ball sorter.
The idea was hatched during Rausch's junior year in high school in collaboration with seniors Erin Cook and Rutu Brahmbhatt as part of an engineering design and development capstone course.
The trio played tennis together and created the sorting machine so coaches wouldn't have to sort balls and check air pressure by hand.
"The coaches used to spend hours checking each of more than 500 balls by hand," said Cook, who is studying engineering at Harper College in Palatine.
She estimates they spent nearly 27 hours combined among three coaches checking the air pressure at least once a month.
Most of the parts for the sorter were printed on Rausch's home 3-D printer -- a machine that can produce parts using different materials, including ceramic, plastic, metal and stoneware -- and the rest were cut on a CNC, or computer numerical control, machine at the high school.
As the balls go through the machine, a spring inside measures pressure, said Brahmbhatt, who is studying engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Based on the coaches' feedback, Rausch and friends are trying to figure out how to make the battery-powered device run on electricity.
"Last week, we took it to (coaches) for a demo of the new design. ... It worked awesome and they were super impressed with it," Rausch said.
The girls have a provisional patent on the device, and Rausch recently submitted a revised utility patent application. They are creating a website and securing social media accounts under the name TenniSorter to market the machine.
Rausch envisions schools, tennis clubs and places offering tennis lessons as ideal customers.
"We're making revisions on it still, so it's not quite to the point where we can sell the product," she said. "But we are considering starting a service for people with tennis courts for an hourly rate. We're hoping by the end of the summer we could start selling the service."
This fall, Rausch will be pursuing a mechanical engineering degree with a concentration in entrepreneurship at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts.
"I don't really like working at a desk like most engineers. I'd rather do the whole engineering process," Rausch said.
"I design it, I build it, I test it, so I'd like to have a company that can let me be involved in all of that. I just want to be an entrepreneur engineer."