Pinellas News

Tarpon Middle students headed to D.C. for competition

TARPON SPRINGS — In the coastal Florida city of Estrella Kai, 75,000 people travel from their apartments to the beach or shopping malls in pods that shoot through transparent aluminum tubes, hovering with the pull of an electromagnetic current.

Downtown buildings are covered in solar panels and giant turbines churn in the Atlantic Ocean, creating electricity from the power of the shifting tides.

People can use their smartphones to reserve a pod and, after boarding, the vehicle enters a “pinwheel” system that shoots them to their destination.

This was the plan a team of three Tarpon Springs Middle School students proposed to address mass transit challenges at the Future City competition last Saturday held at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School in St. Petersburg.

Planners behind mass transit projects such as Greenlight Pinellas might benefit from taking notes.

“Our citizens reap the benefit of a cleaner, safer and more peaceful place to live, work and vacation,” said Tarpon Springs Middle student Victoria Maddex.

Tarpon Middle joined 14 area schools and more than 35,000 middle school students across the country in the annual contest to find creative solutions for problems facing cities throughout the world. Estella Kai also earned Best Essay recognition Saturday.

Students don’t win points just for imagination; area engineers mentor them through the process to help them work out kinks in their plans.

Maddex and her team members, Sarah Tinsley and Eleni Lambrianos, were realistic about the cost of implementing their high-tech system.

“Even though the initial cost of building the pinwheel system was expensive, the convenience and environmental friendliness of it will pay off with increased tourism and productive residents,” Tinsley said.

The winner of Saturday’s regional competition, selected by a panel of engineering experts, will join 35 other teams for national finals in Washington, D.C., next month.

The team that takes home the grand prize wins a trip to U.S. Space Camp and $7,500 for their school’s STEM program.

Other Pinellas teams in the running hailed from Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo, Dunedin Highland Middle School and a second Tarpon Springs Middle School representative.

That additional TSMS team, named Bayland, won for Most Futuristic Model and finished in a tie for fourth place but two groups from the same school could not advance to the final round. Kenneth Malinoski, Matthew Harper and Carson Long made up Team Bayland.

The idea of using a pod-like vehicle for mass transit was a popular one among the five model cities they presented.

The Dunedin team imagined a city called Novice Flux where commuters use a pod that’s whisked through a tube with air suction, like a deposit cylinder at a bank drive-through.

All teams had to identify the “trade-offs” in their transit plans, and the students from Morgan Fitzgerald were candid about the need to raise taxes to pay for their Tubular Transit System.

Their ideas might not be so far-fetched. Engineers already are testing a type of pod that’s suspended on a track high above traffic on the ground, which soon could appear in downtown Tel Aviv, Israel, said Terrel Shaw, director of civil engineering firm HNTB’s Jacksonville office.

Suncoast News reporter Eric Horchy contributed to this article.

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