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Teen Techies Win 'Burn Notice' Spy Competition

By Emily Frost | August 28, 2013 8:36am
 The competition asked participants to build spyware using household objects. 
UWS Teen Tech Entrepreneurs Win National Competition
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The next billionaire tech innovators may hail from the Upper West Side — at least that's what the teen winners of a national competition are hoping.

Drew Tomback and twins James and Hugh Savoldelli, all 15, who are rising sophomores at Columbia Grammar and Prep and live in the neighborhood, recently won a nationwide tech contest sponsored by the USA Network that landed them a $5,000 prize. 

As big fans of the network series "Burn Notice," which revolves around a discredited spy who works to find out who "burned" him, the three jumped at the chance to create their own spy gear in the competition tied to the show. 

They were tasked with creating a gadget that would allow two people separated by a wall and standing at least 100 feet from each other secretly communicate. And, like the show's main character who has been ousted from the CIA and must fend for himself, they could only use household objects.  

"We felt it was perfect," Hugh Savoldelli said of the challenge. "We like 'Burn Notice.' We like science — what could be better?"

After hours of tinkering, often late into the night at the end of a busy school year, the team finally created a working Morse code radio transmitter using two garage door openers. 

They took the devices out to Riverside Park, where they discovered that not only did their invention work, but that it was capable of sending messages 400 feet — well beyond what was required by the competition, they explained. 

Their prize money, awarded for coming in second out of thousands of teams across the country, is going right back into new projects, the trio noted. 

"I'm working on investing and we're looking to invent something in the future," said Tomback, who lives a block away from the twins, making collaboration easy. 

Hugh Savoldelli took it a step further: "This is the future Microsoft here."

The perception of kids interested in science and math has really changed, the teens agreed. 

"Everybody is interested in different tech companies," said James Savoldelli, who said the business magnate and inventor Elon Musk, who co-founded Paypal and the electric car company Tesla Motors, was his biggest role model. 

The "Burn Notice" win is just the beginning, the three added. 

"We view this as a catalyst for future projects," said Tomback.