Invention by daughter of Yokota airman wins runner-up at tech competition in Tokyo
By CHRISTIAN LOPEZ AND ERICA EARL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 5, 2020
While many coronavirus homebodies used their pandemic downtime to binge-watch TV shows, Zoom-call friends or catch up on naptime, Alice Stratton was building a prize-winning science project.
Alice, a 9-year-old fourth grader at Daihachi Elementary School near Yokota Air Base, in March dove into the world of robotics, coding and programming via Microsoft’s YouTube channel, a showcase for how-to programs.
“My daughter and I, while at home, took this on as a project to learn this stuff together,” Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Stratton, inspector general superintendent for the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota, told Stars and Stripes by phone Thursday.
Alice’s mother, Nobuko Stratton, then learned of Maker Faire from an online ad and from that sprang the idea of Alice participating.
The annual event focuses on people inventing new technologies, in robotics, computers, virtual reality, sensors and more. The participants, or “makers,” exhibit and demonstrate their creations at the fair, which is also a competition.
Maker Faire 2020 took place Saturday and Sunday at Tokyo Big Sight, the largest exhibition center in Japan. This year, to comply with coronavirus safety measures, the event organizers assembled the entry in a single hall with a capacity of 3,750 people rather than occupy multiple rooms across the venue.
From hundreds of entrants from across Japan, Alice was selected as one of three finalists for those age 12 and younger in the elementary school category, one of two event categories.
“I like figuring out how things work,” she told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.
Stratton’s entry consisted of an LED clock with a built-in game. Her inspiration arose from a trip with her parents and baby sister Ellie to one of Japan’s many arcades, where Alice became fixated on a game called Cyclone that tests a player’s reaction time. It features a fast, circulating light that gamers must stop at a certain point on its circuit in order to win.
“I wanted to practice it at home to figure out how to win,” she said.
In just six days, working every day after school once her homework was complete, Alice finished her own homemade version of the two-in-one arcade game and clock combo.
The final product is quite sizable, standing almost as tall as Alice, and is made from cardboard, LED strips and a Micro Bit, open-sourced hardware used for programming and coding.
Alice took the runner-up spot, winning a 10,000-yen Amazon gift card and a Micro Bit kit to continue tinkering.
“I learned I can do anything if I put in the hard work,” she said. “I was getting scared that I wouldn’t be able to make it, but I did it.”