Back in elementary school, Patrick McCabe was looking for a way to pass some time during the weekends. So he started inventing things. In fourth grade, the San Antonio kid created a cup coaster meant to absorb water. Next he tried his hand at everything from games made out of cardboard to lightning jars. By the ninth grade, he was making his own miniature robots that performed a variety of practical functions, as well as full-scale solar-powered vehicles.
Now McCabe, a 17-year-old senior at Pasco High School, has received a full-ride scholarship to MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This member of the National Honor Society is also graduating with a 4.5 grade point average, claimed his school's PRIDE award for achievements in science, and is completing a year of dual enrollment classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
"I feel that MIT is one of the best schools for the fields that I'm interested in: science and engineering, computer science and robotics," he said.
Overall McCabe has invented and amassed a collection of 11 robots, including an AGV (Autonomous Ground Vehicle) remote control car (complete with a GPS unit, a digital compass and a microcontroller) that claimed first place in last year's Pasco Regional Science and Engineering Fair and earned the student certificates of recognition at the Pasco fair from the National Society of Professional Engineers, who gave him an Innovative Engineering Award, an Intel Excellence in Computer Science Award, and special recognitions from the Army and Air Force. He previously created a maze-running robot that claimed third place in the engineering category of the Pasco Regional Science and Engineering Fair; a mini sumo wrestling robot; and robotic versions of Pingpong and lottery-themed games.
He also invented a robotic hand that can move chess pieces across a board, based on coordinates entered by computer. And last year he was a member of a team that created a solar-powered tricycle, which claimed first place in the Energy Innovations category of the EnergyWhiz Olympics 2011, a competition sponsored by the Florida Solar Energy Center.
"Boredom is always my main motivation" for any invention, McCabe said with a chuckle. "And it's fun to make and create things. It's hard to say why something is fun — it just is."
He also finds that his creative process changes and morphs over time.
"At first I just liked to make things that are flashy and cool," he said. "Other inventions became more technical. And every invention reflects what I know at that time — the more I learn, the better the things I build."
His father, Jim McCabe, owns McCabe Farms in San Antonio. His mother, Linda McCabe, is a secretary at Pasco High. Patrick McCabe has maintained straight As throughout his scholastic career, going back to Pasco Middle and San Antonio Elementary. An active member of the Pasco High School Science Club, he has won additional honors in Pasco High science fairs under the guidance of Pasco High science teacher and science fair coordinator Donald Charlick.
"Patrick is a gifted thinker who is always doing projects with real world applications," said Charlick. "Students like him, who use critical thinking skills, really separate themselves."
Mignon Edwards, career specialist at Pasco High School, also has high praise for McCabe.
"He's an easy student to work with, always on top of everything," she said. "He is a dynamic, one of a kind student who is a great role model for younger kids."
Outside of school McCabe runs a website, Patrick McCabe Makes (www.patrickmccabemakes.com), in which he discusses and presents his inventions, projects and ideas. And he offers online advice to people struggling with technical and computer-related issues.
"Through emails and online forums I help people who come to these websites with technical issues," he said.
Although McCabe intends to pursue a computer science degree at MIT, he's not sure exactly what kind of job he wants after graduation. He is interested in everything from software development to autonomous (computer driven) cars; and regardless of the specific profession that he chooses, he intends to keep creating and inventing.