From a distance, it looks like a birdhouse or trail camera hung from the trunk of a tree, but this inconspicuous device that’s smaller than an iPhone aims to prevent thousands of wildfires that ravage land across the United States every year.
InfernoGuard was created by four students, including first-year Lehigh student Zoe Sherman ’25, a computer science and business major. Now the invention is getting a lot of recognition.
Sherman won during a EUREKA! Venture Program Pitch Night at the Baker Institute last semester. Students compete on multiple stages at the monthly event. Sherman pitched from the second stage for students with prototyped ideas that they’ve begun to validate technically and financially.
Sherman and the InfernoGuard co-founders have since gone on to win the $100,000 Climate Change Grand Prize during the Arizona State University Innovation Open in February. They also took the top $20,000 prize in Johns Hopkins University’s FastForward U: Fall 2021 Fuel Demo Day, during which teams have the opportunity to pitch their venture to a curated audience. The students also are finalists in the TigerLaunch student-run entrepreneurship competition which will take place at Princeton University next month.
Sherman and her childhood friends Kevin Kaspar, a sophomore at Northwestern University; Nandita Balaji, a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University, and Shreyas Bhasin, a sophomore at Wake Forest University, all attended Providence Day School, a private college preparatory school in Charlotte, N.C.
They began working on InfernoGuard in 2016, Sherman said, when they were freshmen in high school for eCybermission, a STEM competition that asks students to solve a community problem with an innovative solution.
At the time, the western region of North Carolina was getting charred by massive wildfires. Even though Sherman and her classmates lived three hours from the fires, the air quality in Charlotte was so bad they couldn’t go outside.
“Being stuck inside showed us how drastic the effects could be, even far away from a forest fire,” Sherman said. “We learned that many forest fires aren’t detected until they are already out of control. At that moment, we decided we were going to do a fire detection device."