Andrew Heafitz

Designed a low-cost aerial surveillance system that utilizes a rocket

Andrew Heafitz' aptitude for engineering can be traced back to his childhood interest in Legos, rocketry, solar cars and aerial photography. Though he didn't quite understand what engineering and designing was as a child, Heafitz was inventing by the time he was a junior in high school, receiving his first patent in 1985 for the shutter of a high-speed balsa wood camera that he constructed and flew in a model rocket. Heafitz was awarded the 2002 Lemelson-MIT $30,000 Student Prize.

As an MIT undergrad, Heafitz developed a remote balloon photography system with a 10-foot helium balloon and a Nikon camera. While the quality of the photos achieved with this device was good, maneuverability was poor.

In 2001, Heafitz furthered this invention by designing a low-cost aerial surveillance system that utilizes a rocket instead of a balloon. The device, which is easier to maneuver, consists of a patent-pending rocket the size of a soda can with a video camera and transmitter inside the nosecone. Video footage is transmitted to a grounded computer, instantly displaying a map-like mosaic. In 2001, Heafitz created TacShot, Inc. to manufacture this device and in 2002, he received a contract to develop it for the U.S. Air Force.

Another of Heafitz' inventions is a kerosene-liquid oxygen rocket engine that he developed with the MIT Rocket Team, a campus group he co-founded. The rocket engine, which can be manufactured at one-tenth the cost of existing engines, uses a solar-car motor to get it up to full speed before igniting. The team is currently modifying the design to eventually launch off the coast off Wallops Island, VA.

"Designing low-cost inventions is something I'm good at," comments Heafitz, who also invented a low-cost gas tank leak detection device that signals ground water contamination to prevent environmental damage in developing countries. Heaftiz received both his BS (1991) and MS (2001) in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. A native of Newton, MA, Heafitz credits his mother and father, a high school math teacher and an industrial real estate developer, as his lifelong mentors.