Neha Shukla, a 15-year-old girl from Pennsylvania, felt helpless watching the horror of the pandemic unfold and invented a sensory device that beeps or vibrates when social distance is breached.

A toothy grin adorned Nasdaq screen on Times Square in New York City. It read, “Nasdaq congratulates Neha Shukla on the development of SixFeetApart to advance healthcare,” referring to Neha’s invention – a sonic sensor cap that beeps or vibrates when six feet distance is breached. Nifty during Covid times.
In the surreal world of social distancing, the 15-year-old girl from Pennsylvania felt helpless watching the horror of the pandemic unfold. The Cumberland Valley High School student then scoured through engineering and technology self-learning during quarantine on the web to address what she saw was an unsurmountable problem – lives lost due to a careless lack of social distancing. Today, Neha Shukla is getting set to launch her invention, SixFeetApart by 2020 end with the patent pending. The little girl with a brilliant mind is now making the cap more accurate with heat sensing tech, launching an app, and has added two new devices – a lanyard and an arm band, all paired via a bluetooth to enable even joggers to adhere to the six feet rule.
Continuous innovation, she says is key. “SixFeetApart is a simple solution to a complex problem of social distancing. I’m working on introducing elements like neural networks, infrared imaging, and image processing to increase precision and accuracy, while targeting user-interface through a more compact design, a mobile app, and partnering with a hat-making company for beta testing with focus groups,” explains Neha. She is also in talks with a university to partner on lab testing.
The cap has ultra-sonic sensors, a micro-processor, a buzzer and a battery which she has coded with a programme that causes ultrasonic sensors to send out waves which when they collide with a person within a six-feet detection range, it alerts the user. The lanyard and arm band follow the same principle. Demonstrating on Zoom, she says, “Here is a lanyard to put around the neck equipped with the same technology. I started thinking about joggers and their arm bands, and adapted SixFeetApart to the arm band design.” The tenth grader has always loved solving real world problems using science, technology, engineering, and maths even as a child.
In fact, she would code apps using a block coder, and even started designing a heart rate-oximeter which she hopes to finish soon. Student, inventor and founder, surprisingly her public school is not stem magnet. So how does a 15-year-old gain deep knowledge of Stem? “I think it comes down to caring enough about a problem, and being willing to take action, and solving it. I know that I am not going to come up with a vaccine at home (she giggles), but I can come up with a social distancing device. You have to have an open mindset. It helps you and your idea blossom,” she adds with a wisdom beyond her years.
Her parents Bharti and Rajiv Shukla are “absolutely amazing mentors.” “They both went to IIT and Harvard. In fact, they met at IIT. My mother is into executive consulting, and dad in finance for healthcare. They are both making waves and doing big things. I am really proud of them. They have always encouraged me to be curious about the world, but let me figure things out without spoon feeding. My dad is an avid reader, he has inculcated in me the idea that it is possible to have a super deep knowledge of all subjects. It is funny as his knowledge is so deep and wide, it’s crazy,” says Neha whose penchant for Stem clearly stems from her parents.
The cap was given an impetus when she signed up for Girls with Impact, an online entrepreneurship academy. The programme takes 12 to 18-year-old girls with diverse passions, and handholds them through starting up. Neha’s passion of helping people and using Stem to solve problems transformed her invention. “They helped me take it through a full business plan, as strategic partners. It was immensely helpful,” Neha says.
Having garnered attention on NYT, Nasdaq, etc, uncannily, Neha is grounded and self-composed, “I’m happy that my work is paying off, every article brings me a step closer to solving the social distancing problem,” smiles the Stem whiz.
“Jennifer Openshaw, the CEO of Girls with Impact is a major influence. She has been a huge driving force for my innovation, and has taught me so much. I am thrilled to be working with her,” she says.
Her parents are originally from Mumbai, and Neha herself stayed in India for a brief period, and visits Pune and Mumbai often with family. Of what she misses, she can’t resist Indian street food, especially panipuri!
Her 15 years pack so much, and she attributes it to her own organisational style. Her focus now is also on the innovative sessions she runs enabling other students, partnering with the Global Scholars Network. Having impacted 8,000-10,000 students and counting, she wants to, “Increase those numbers, work on getting stem education to inaccessible areas.” A teen leader, her message is, “Don’t be afraid to dream big to try to solve the biggest problems in society.”
A piano player, she loves playing Beethoven, Mozart, and jazzy tunes like Rag Time, and also tinkers with the acoustic guitar. “When I am not playing music, I love to paint – oils and acrylic. I like doing landscapes or still art. Or playing with my sister Niharika in the backyard,” says the young inventor, giving a rare glimpse of the teen she is. MIT or Harvard is her goal, but first there’s school to complete.