2002 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize Winner
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
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 B.S. (1991)
and M.S. (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
Heafitz is currently an instructor at the MIT Edgerton Center
and for the MIT spring course Design for Demining. In addition
to other consulting projects, he is working on an Engineering Systems
mock-up with the Mars Gravity Biosatellite Lab at MIT. Heafitz also
leads TacShot, his company for unmanned, remote aerial photography.
2005 Innovation Forum