ELLINGTON — Molly Deptula appears, at first glance, like an average 12-year-old
She loves to play softball, is a member of the local 4-H Club, and acts in community theater.
But Molly, who will be entering eighth grade this fall at Ellington Middle School, is also an award-winning inventor. She’s the creator of the “Bully Band,” a device students can wear around their wrist that can record acts of bullying and transmit the video and audio to an app school administrators can access. She fashioned it out of an old Fitbit activity tracker, which she outfitted with a tiny hidden camera.
Molly’s Bully Band took first place among seventh-grade inventions at the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo, or NICEE, in Dearborn, Michigan, on June 1. She had been among the 427 students to advance to NICEE out of more than 108,000 students in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada who competed at the town and state levels.
At the same event, the Society of Women Engineers awarded her third place for the Bully Band.
“She’s amazing,” said Christine Lawlor-King, director of education at the Connecticut Invention Convention, where Molly previously exhibited her Bully Band. “She represented Connecticut really well at the National Invention Convention.”
The idea for the Bully Band came to Molly just over a year ago.
“I was bullied in sixth grade, and I was sort of getting tired of it,” Molly said. “The school couldn’t really do anything about it because there was no solid evidence.”
Frustrated with the recurring he said, she said scenario, Molly thought to herself, “What if I had a security camera?”
On June 19, 2017, she completed her first drawing for the Bully Band. The device records video and audio from the vantage point of the wearer, and is connected to an app that allows teachers or school administrators to view the footage as it is happening. It also gives them the opportunity to store the footage for later viewing.
Because there was no Young Inventors Club at Ellington Middle School, it was up to Molly to start the club on her own with help from science teacher Beth Tautkus.
Development for the Bully Band was extensive, pushing Molly to seek after-school tutoring in coding for the app development from Karen Nigro, the computer education teacher at Ellington Middle School.
She also sought some legal counsel from then-lead teacher and now Assistant Principal Michael Nash, who went over the right to privacy and how it relates to the business model for the Bully Band.
According to her mother, Kristen Deptula, the Bully Band repeatedly authenticates itself on school servers, ensuring it is only recording within school grounds.
“She put so much work into it,” Nigro said. “She’s such a positive kid who doesn’t give up.”
Molly hopes to evolve the Bully Band to have more advanced coding, a slimmer battery pack, and an emergency alarm in case students using it are in immediate physical danger.
The Bully Band is not Molly’s first invention and likely won’t be her last. Last year, she created the “Locker Bud Ease,” a device to help students with limited mobility open their school lockers by themselves.
She came up with the idea and design when she was 11 years old and a friend in a wheelchair wanted to open his locker without help from someone else. She took the invention to last year’s NICEE but it didn’t win anything. However, it was chosen to be on display on the fifth floor of the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford.
She hopes to compete at NICEE next year with a new invention, even while working toward her patent and further developing the Bully Band.
To give herself some time to fundraise for a utility patent, she submitted a provisional patent application for the Bully Band to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on June 28. The provisional application allows her a year of wiggle room to raise money for the utility patent.
The cost of a utility patent can be $10,000 or higher, which is why Molly’s mother started a GoFundMe page for her to help with the cost. As of today, it has raised $1,825 of its $10,000 goal.
Molly is also doing some of her own fundraising by selling soap and eggs from her family’s small farm.
But other than helping with fundraising efforts, Molly’s parents have let her take the reins on her own with her project.
“She had to figure it out on her own,” Kristin Deptula said of the patent applications. “We wouldn’t know how to submit a patent.”
She said Molly has always been a planner and had an interest in science and engineering early on.
“It’s in her nature,” she said.
Kristen Deptula’s grandfather was an engineer and she sees a lot of him in Molly.
As for her bullying problem, Molly said seventh grade was not much better than sixth, but she remains positive about her future.
“(Bullies) can make middle school really, really terrible. But if you want to go work for NASA, they can’t change that,” said Molly, who wants to be an engineer.
Donations to help Molly get her patent can be made to her GoFundMe page at: www.gofundme.com/stopbullieswiththebullyband