Two students at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology have won a combined $10,000 in prize money for an invention they claim could improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent.

Mark Rotert and John Parker Chandler IV say their pocket-sized product can be classified as a vortex generator. The devices are commonly used to reduce drag on airplanes and come in many shapes and sizes. Rotert's and Chandler's resembles a small shark fin. 

"We originally got the idea essentially through Formula One,” Chandler said recently in a phone interview.

The Mines sophomores say they developed the idea for the TwisTech over the course of their involvement in the school's Formula SAE team, which takes part in a national student race car design and performance competition.

The two said they proceeded to test a digital model of their invention for some 1,000 hours using simulation software. Drag reduction on sedan-style cars yielded a 10 percent improvement in fuel consumption and improvements of 7 percent for semi-trucks.

The pair manufactured prototypes using a 3D printer and claim to have replicated their results in tests on their personal vehicles.

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“We’re now looking at ways to get it into a wind tunnel and get some real world, professional data,” Chandler said.

They are also exploring the potential for a business based around the device.

On Friday, Chandler and Rotert won $5,000 for placing first in the South Dakota's Governor's Giant Vision competition, where they pitched the TwisTech. Earlier this month, they also won the inaugural Braun Student Inventor Award at Mines for the invention, which came with its own $5,000 prize and a free patent application.

"Our plan is basically to spend some time this summer trying to further validate our design,” Rotert said.

Winning the Braun award, Chandler said, put him and Roter in a "solid position" while they continue their education at Mines. They said they plan on further establishing themselves by marketing toward the trucking industry before expanding into consumer sales.

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