Engineering students show off their best new ideas

The research is done, the data collected, the prototype created. It's time to show off the next big idea at Innovation Day on the Western Michigan University campus.
In the lobby of the building that houses the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences on the Western Michigan University Campus, students are telling the story of what it is they have crafted and why people need it.

This is Innovation Day. Displays describing the projects and how much they will cost to develop and manufacture sit atop tables. Next to each one, teams stand ready to describe their next great idea.

One team wants to get rid of that tangle of cords that everyone has in a desk in their office, starting with a device that will untangle a set of earbuds. In what looks like the housing for a tape measure, the cords retract. The device is meant to be used with a wide range of headphones and other cables.

The team of Ely Mota, from Brazil; Mateus Serpa, from Brazil; and Mohammed Tashkardi, from Saudi Arabia, say they have been working on the idea for about four months and the prototype for several weeks.

Another team is working on a portable baby changing station for a car or minivan. The team says their original idea was to create something that could improve parents' experiences changing diapers in public restrooms. They quickly found that many parents avoid changing diapers there as the restrooms seem to be too unsanitary. Parents told the team they change their child in the car instead.

Parents' forums online proved invaluable as they worked to gather information that would help them create a device that would be helpful to those who have young children in diapers.

The team came up with a collapsible changing station that has a bar that adjusts to create a level surface that can be changed depending upon the angle of the car seat. Their initial attempt at making the changing station is appropriate for a child of up to 12 months. Further work needs to be done to create one that will hold larger children.

Competition for the device is primarily fabric mats that are rolled up and kept in diaper bags. Nothing else on the market tackles the problem of children rolling into or off the seat while their parents grapple with diapers and diaper bags. team members say.

Another team is developing a wall that is designed for those who like to climb cracks in mountains. The team found that climbing in general is a booming business. But that right now those who want to practice crack climbing don't have a lot of options. And a climber on the team confirmed the need for such an invention.

Crack climbers might have an area in the back of a climbing gym if there is any place at all. Current options for crack climbers are also not built to be adjusted. So the WMU team set about creating a Crack Climbing Hold. It can be adjusted for wider and narrow hands and also for those who want to practice a fist jam.

The Crack Climbing Hold is built to be become part of an existing climbing wall or it could added in pieces to create a longer climbing experience.

The team said when the took the prototype to a local climbing gym for a trial the owner wanted it on the spot. Love Kamar, Case Kleppe, John Lewkowicz and Jason Stryjewski are building the Crack Climbing Hold.

Many of the students at Innovation Day are part of the Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineers (IEE) program offered at WMU. They are learning skills for an economy where entrepreneurs with technical skills have more opportunities and career options than their counterparts.

In the program students take a project from idea to prototype. Students identify a problem that needs to be solved, quantify what the "pain point" is with numbers to back it up, and after their research they develop a prototype.

Dr. Anil Kumar is a research scientist with WMU and one of six advisors who work with the Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering students. Kumar says that each of the six have a speciality that they can present to the students and all have many years experience in industry consulting to share with students.

One of those teaching the program might help students with safety concerns, while another provides technical feedback, and another can help with the manufacturing of parts. Teams are required to create a device that has no more than 10 moving parts.

Back at the Innovation Day displays, another prototype includes a device to help an individual person lift canoes and kayaks onto cars and other vehicles. The Omni Lift allows the watercraft to be wheeled close to the car, then a telescoping frame provides the means to lift it onto the car roof. The team learned that prospective customers believe it will work for lifting other bulky items such as couches onto rooftops during a move.

Another business idea is a filter strong enough for filter salt out of sea water, removing the need for bulky breathing apparatus. And another team is creating a 3-D Modeling Simulation that allows students who want to be surgeons to learn without using a body.

The day also was a chance for the younger set to show off its creativity. Students from the Gagie School came up with some ideas to meet needs they see.

Shiran Bahl, a 7th grader, created a mockup of a Rider Inflatable Vest, designed to protect those who fall off a bicycle or a horse. The vest inflates when the rider pulls a cord as they realize they are falling.

Boomerang ball is the brainchild of 5th grader Yasmin Pirbhai. "The ball looks like a regular softball. It has the same weight." But the ball Yasmin envisions has an device inside that allows it to roll across the ground without being touched by anyone. Using gyroscopic motion the ball responds to a call from a transmitter that causes it to roll in from wherever it landed in the outfield.

This modified softball would improve batting practice since no time would be lost retrieving balls, Yasmin says. And Yasmin is a softball player who knows firsthand the need for such a device. She says that as the youngest person on the team gathering the balls often falls to her.

Giovanni Brosco was another athlete with an idea. He created an example in paper of his proposal for a foldable lacrosse stick. The stick folds in three places and could fit in a backpack. Giovanni is a middie on his lacrosse team.

And Bryce Henderson's idea is a glue for Legos. It would hold Lego projects together until the person who created it was ready for it to come apart. Then the project would be submerged in water, the glue would dissolve, and the Legos could be used in another project.

Bryce even has a motto for the Lego glue company aimed that those who complain of the pain of stepping on stray Legos: "No hurt feet. No hurt feelings."

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.