The Frederick News-Post

WALKERSVILLE, Md. (AP) — Usually, hobbies cost money. But Sam Pritt’s extracurricular project has earned him $3,000 and could bring in an additional $100,000.

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Sam, 17, lives in Walkersville and has been home-schooled by his parents, Christine and Mark, his entire life, he said Wednesday. About a year and a half ago, he got the inspiration for his lucrative idea, a software application that can pinpoint a photograph’s location by mapping the horizon.

“After taking AP computer science, I was just looking around for a project,” he said. “My dad gave me a few ideas, and he told me geolocation is a big problem in the military.”

Sam started out by taking pictures of the mountains near his house and comparing them with images of the same area on Google Earth.

Soon, he was doing a “huge amount of coding and debugging” to create an algorithm with the ability to compare photographs to terrain elevation data.

“It just maps every possible horizon … and looks for the best match,” he said.

He completed his program in the spring and began entering it in competitions.

Last weekend, he won top honors and a cash prize when he presented his work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology.

As the regional winner, he is invited to present at the national finals in Washington in December. Two top prizes of $100,000 will be awarded at that event.

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Sam is proud that his work is being recognized through the Siemens Foundation, but he was also pleasantly surprised recently when a Lockheed Martin engineer working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency asked to use his software.

“He had a bunch of pictures from FEMA of hurricane damage from Sandy, and for some reason the GPS data from these pictures had been lost,” Sam said.

The engineer wanted to use the program to map the area and find out where it was for damage assessment purposes.

“It’s exciting,” Sam said. “When I started out, I never really anticipated it going this far at all.”

Other potential applications of his project are counterterrorism and robot navigation, he said.

Christine Pritt said one thing that helped Sam along the way was the mentoring of her husband, who works at Lockheed Martin.

“It’s kind of like Encyclopedia Brown,” she said with a laugh.

But Sam’s passion was all his own.

“When he puts his mind to something, he puts his whole heart into it,” she said. “We’re just so excited and proud of him.”

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Sam said he will graduate from high school this spring and has already sent an early application to Harvard University.
Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post,
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)