Zachary Braun and Tyler Sisk’s entry for the 2016 edition of Georgia Tech’s InVenture Prize competition is all about keeping someone they know alive in a very dangerous job.
“I have a family friend who’s a firefighter, and he was telling me how chaotic it can be, and so we just knew we had to help him,” said Braun, a computer engineering student at Georgia Tech.
The result is the FireHUD, a firefighter’s oxygen mask with sensors and an interior heads-up display. FireHUD monitors firefighter vital signs and other important data, and sends it in real-time to on-the-scene commanders “so they can keep track on how everyone’s doing as far as their vitals are concerned, and they can tell people to cool off and take a rest so they can protect themselves,” said Sisk, an electrical engineering major.
Braun and Sisk make up one of six teams of finalists announced this week for the InVenture Prize, which has celebrated innovation and entrepreneurship among Georgia Tech students since 2009 and is billed as the country’s largest undergraduate competition. Students vie for a chance to win a total of $35,000, along with free patent filings and guaranteed spots in the university’s Flashpoint startup accelerator program. For the first time, there is an all-ACC version of the InVenture Prize; the Georgia Tech winner will compete against teams from other conference schools April 5-6 in Atlanta.
A Georgia Tech press release calls the InVenture Prize “American Idol for nerds,” and it’s an apt comparison. The finals air every year on Georgia Public Broadcasting, with this year’s show scheduled for March 16th at the Ferst Center for the Arts.
“What they’ve built on is their own activities, their own passions, so that’s kind of informed a lot of the projects,” said Christopher Reaves, Georgia Tech’s director of Undergraduate Research and Student Innovation. “Most of these projects, they already had the idea.”
That was the case with the students behind TruePani, a household water sanitation product that was inspired by a trip to India taken last summer by environmental engineering student Shannon Evanchec and civil engineering major Samantha Becker. The students were trying to help reduce waterborne illnesses among children in rural parts of the country, but they discovered that contaminants like e. coli were defeating home filtration techniques by sticking to the walls of cups.
Their solution involved an old-school approach that takes advantage of the anti-microbial properties of copper. “The innovation is kind of in the application and simplicity of the product,” said Becker. “We took a simple object – a cup – and a storage container, and a lotus device, and we used copper, which has been anti-microbial for centuries.”
The copper “lotus device” kills any microbes suspended in the water storage container. It’s shaped like a lotus flower, which represents purity in Hinduism and Buddism. Evanchec says that’s a part of the user-friendly design behind TruePani. “Behavior change is key. That is a huge thing,” she said. “People don’t want to adopt technologies that are inconvenient or don’t mesh with their cultures.”
Ana Gomez del Campo discovered that the technology behind helping athletes recover from concussions needed some updating in clinical settings. She and her finalist team came up with Wobble, a device doctors can use to test balance. Instead of standing on one leg on solid ground for 30 seconds, a recovering athlete uses one leg to stay atop the Wobble square, which gently moves in two dimensions and also provides other data via nearby sensors.
The InVenture Prize competition isn’t just designed to facilitate inventions like Wobble. It also sparks team-building and provides other lessons in creating successful startups, said del Campo.
“‘I’ve learned that my team is even more impressive than I thought. We all have complementary skills sets..but we’ve learned that we need to ask for help every step of the way and reach out to mentors at every level of the design process.”
The entrepreneurial model necessitated that the TruePani team add two business administration majors, Sarah Lynn Bowers and Naomi Ergun, to help with go-to-market strategies. “It’s cool that Georgia Tech has this environment where you can bring together all these different majors and backgrounds, and take their strengths to make this work,” Evanchec said.
That spirit of collaboration is what Reeves noticed when looking at this year’s InVenture Prize entries. “The teams were really well-formed. Each team had a lot of members with a lot of different disciplines helping them, so they seem to be further along with the product – how to market it, how to pitch it.”
Other InVenture Prize finalists include:
- FretWizard, a “virtual guitar teacher” website. Student inventors are Ali Abid (computer science) and Molly Ricks (international affairs).
- RoboGoalie, a device that allows soccer players to practice alone by launching and automatically retrieving soccer balls. Inventors, all mechanical engineering majors, are Siu Lan Chan, Ming Him Ko, Zhifeng Su and Timothy Woo.
- TEQ Charging, which allows for easier installation of electric vehicle charging stations and more efficient charging of multiple vehicles. Inventors are Dorrier Coleman (computer engineering), Mitchell Kelman (computer science), Joshua Lieberman (mechanical engineering) and Isaac Wittenstein (mechanical engineering).
Want to learn more about the Georgia Tech InVenure Prize? Follow the competition on Twitter and Facebook.
Photos from Renay San Miguel with additional imagery from InVenture Prize.