OPHS student moves forward in Ventura County Science Fair competition

Junior Kevin Ma becomes eligible to continue competing

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Photo Courtesy of Kevin Ma

Junior Kevin Ma’s project linked on the VCOE website details research, procedures, tests, results, and more.

Judges for the Ventura County Science Fair reviewed student-made projects for the county’s 66th annual science fair from March 15-18. Oak Park High School junior Kevin Ma was among those participating in this year’s fair and was among the handful of students selected to move forward in the competition. 

Ma originally intended to participate in the fair last year, however, it was scheduled to take place around the same time stay-at-home orders were being set in place. The fair was cancelled as a result, but this year the event was adjusted to fit COVID-19 guidelines and was held virtually. 

Participants were allowed to submit projects from any topic of their choosing, the only requirement was to register for the event, pay a fee, sign a permission form and submit your project by 4 p.m. on March 12. 

Project completion time varies from student-to-student, however, for Ma it took roughly three months to finish. His project is essentially a tennis coach replacement for people who are unable to afford or take in-person lessons. The prototype allows individuals to receive feedback on their swings in real time that will help them improve their skills in a similar way to an actual coach. 

“It took me around five tries to get my prototype for the sensor correct, and when working with a project that involves coordination with software and hardware the coding is always excruciatingly finicky. You end up spending two days trying to fix a program and it turns out the problem all along was that you had typed an extra 0 in one line,” Ma said. 

Aside from following the set deadlines, students were granted the freedom to create projects and research any topic. Ma decided to focus his efforts on creating a tennis sensor. According to his project overview, Ma believes that the issue “of contactless training [for tennis]” can be solved with “the polar opposite of sports –– computer science.”

His project PDF is titled “A Real Time Machine Learning Aided System for Tennis Training” and in it, Ma goes into detail regarding sub-topics such as research, solutions, data, test results, essentially all aspects of his final model. 

On his presentation day Ma had to summarize three months worth of work and data in just a few minutes. 

“I submitted a tennis sensor that I built that’s small enough to be mounted onto a tennis racket, that is able to collect data from the environment and then use machine learning [algorithms] in order to classify tennis swings. The sensor basically tells you if your swings are decent or bad, what kinds of swings you usually hit, how fast you hit them, and how you should improve your form, so that you can identify what you need to change in your play style. I decided to build this as since when we were all sent home from the pandemic, no one could practice with coaches anymore, because of social distancing guidelines. Thus, I wanted to make something that could allow players to still have an effective way to train without having to be in contact with a physical person,” Ma said.

In order to collect his sample data Ma had to complete 1,200 consecutive swings. However, he recalls the event with a sense of humor stating he’s thankful his work was not in vain as all those swings had an impact on his arm. Ma is set to compete once again April 12-13 at the California Science and Engineering Fair, which will likewise be held virtually this year.