Advaitha Motkuri has long been interested in science. Her father is a chemist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and she’s wanted to be a doctor since she was in elementary school.
“Ultimately, I want to help people,” the Richland High School sophomore says.
However, it was her experience taking a coding class in sixth grade that piqued her interest in computer science and set her on the path to develop an award-winning app aimed at reducing drunk driving and saving lives.
Advaitha’s “People’s Pupil” app was recently named the winner of the 2022 Central Washington Congressional App Challenge, which is open to students throughout the 4th Congressional District. Her app uses facial recognition to scan the pupil of the eye and detect signs of intoxication in a person. If it detects someone may be intoxicated, it opens up ride-sharing apps such as Uber to encourage the individual to catch a ride home rather than drive.
She had originally designed the app as part of a class assignment and also entered it in the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair, where it took second place. She learned of the Congressional App Challenge with only a week before the deadline and quickly made some improvements before submitting it.
A panel of judges from PNNL selected Advaitha’s app as the winner and Congressman Dan Newhouse called to congratulate her. When she answered the phone, she thought her father may be trying to prank her before realizing she’d won.
“I was very surprised because I didn’t expect something I submitted as an assignment for a class to get this far,” she said.
Advaitha’s app will be part of an exhibition at the U.S. Capitol Building and she will be invited to the House of Code Capitol Hill Reception in Washington D.C., and receive mentoring from PNNL scientists.
That mentoring is already leading to improvements of the app so that it can be released to the public.
Advaitha says she’s glad that the app was so well-received. She’s not sure she would want a career coding, but she’s now trying to think of how to combine her knack for it and her dream of a medical career.