EASTON, Conn. — Mike Ogrinz is a born tinkerer.
A collector of old pinball and arcade games, he’s co-founder of Westport’s Mini Maker Faire and even has built a replica of Robot B-9 of “Lost in Space” fame.
So, it wasn’t surprising the Easton inventor submitted a video application to compete on “Invent-Off,” an invention web series that pits two teams against each other to create new technology.
“I’m always telling my daughters to try new things, even if they seem hard or uncomfortable,” said Ogrinz, a senior vice president of research and development at Bank of America. “So I had to try it and — the next thing I knew I was on the show.”
Even better, Ogrinz and “Team Blue” won the second season competition — and $25,000 — for Ouroboros, their invention to get life-saving help to snakebite victims in remote locations via drone technology.
Once chosen for the show, Ogrinz flew to California to meet his new teammates, software engineer Hannah Sarver and artist/technologist Ian Ingram, with whom he spent three days coming up with an idea, creating it and preparing a presentation for judging on the fourth day.
After discussing several options, the team decided to address the “under-reported tragedy” of fatal venomous snakebites, Ogrinz said.
“Snakebite deaths are a non-story in America,” said Ogrinz, whose wife, Monica, teaches in Bethel. “But in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa it’s estimated as many as 100,000 people die each year from them.”
“Invent-Off” was created by Qualcomm, a California-based semiconductor and telecommunications firm, and the teams were given access to high-tech 3D printers, lasers and other equipment they’d need for their race-against-the-clock building and testing sessions.
The main component of Ouroboros is a small device medical workers can use in the field to collect crucial heart rate information that can access conditions indicative of a venomous bite. The data and photos of the snake can then be transferred to clinics or a hospital so the correct anti-venom will be available when the patient arrives.
The project required a lot of research on the Internet, since the team couldn’t work with actual snakes and bite victims.
“We did not inflict snakebites on anyone,” Ogrinz said, laughing. “No snakes or people were harmed during the making of this.”
In the end, the judges — Jason Silva, host of National Geographic’s “Brain Games, designer/strategist Cheryl Heller and engineering instructor Saura Naderl — dubbed Team Blue’s project the winner.
The team is now discussing its next steps and how they might bring the invention to a major company to evolve the design and sponsor field trials.
While the project was grueling, Ogrinz said he’d do it again “in an instant."
“It was incredibly challenging, and I didn’t sleep for three days, but I had two great partners and we were able to build something amazing that could help a lot of people,” he said.
Ogrinz said he’s happy to be back at the bank developing technology for account security.
“We protect from a different kind of snake,” he said.
Want to know more? The whole “Invent-Off” series is available for streaming here .