October 2013

  • Zip Line Challenge

    October 31, 2013
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    Student Reflection - October 30, 2013

    Today was the first time of the semester I participated in the Weekly Innovation Challenge, and I am very glad that I did. I had the privilege of working with and getting to know two awesome people from different areas of study at SLU, and it really brightened my day. There are few opportunities on campus to work in such a fun and excited environment in an effort to complete a given assignment with group members of different majors. The Weekly Innovation Challenge has provided me with that opportunity and for that I am very grateful. I am a neuroscience major, so if you are wondering how many times I get to work on group projects with a business major and an engineering major, you are right if you guessed none.

    The task was to build a ping pong ball carrier device that would slide down a zip-line at the fastest speed without displacing the ball from the carrier upon impact. I haven’t been presented with such a building challenge since high school, so I found this incredibly exciting. Not only did I get to work with other SLU students outside my major, as mentioned previously, but I also had the chance to apply concepts from my physics courses in a group effort to build the fastest zip-line carrier.

    Overall, I greatly enjoyed this experience because of the hands on building, application of knowledge from the classroom, and teamwork with fellow students from different areas of study. My group was very proud of our creation, and although we did not win, I will certainly return in the following weeks because of my incredible experience participating in the Weekly Innovation Challenge.

    Winning Reflection - Michael Toth

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  • Leap Into the Future Challenge

    October 24, 2013
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    Student Reflection - October 23, 2013

    Though my schedule this semester limits how often I can attend, I always look forward to the Weekly Innovation Challenge. This week, I was fortunate to work with a freshman engineering student whom I did the challenge with a few weeks ago. As a senior biochemistry major, I think the Weekly Innovation Challenge plays an important role on campus by bringing together students from all classes and majors. It certainly presents me with a level of student diversity not available in some of my major classes, which often include the same 20-30 people I have known for the past few years.

    Today’s event was the “Leap into the Future Challenge.” For this contest, we needed to devise a 90 second skit to showcase the Leap Motion Controller, a laptop compatible camera system that allows the user to manipulate on-screen objects using hand gestures. Our skits were to be judged based on their presentation of Leap Motion functionality and possible applications. In order to get the best scores, we needed to figure out innovative new uses for the technology and predict its future direction. To help us get started, the system was set up on a number of computers, which were available for us to try.

    While teams of three usually compete in these challenges, my team lacked a third member today. As a result, I realized that this presented some benefits as well as hindrances. Even though it might have been easier for us to come to an agreement about the direction for our skit with two team members rather than three, our perspective was limited compared to the potential addition of another teammate. Essentially, we had a less diverse background and a harder time coming up with novel ideas. Likewise, we initially struggled to begin designing our skit. My partner figured out an effective strategy faster than I could, but someone from a business or communications major might have made our presentation even more effective.

    Ultimately, we decided that the best route for our project would be to set it up as a dialogue. I played the role of someone very experienced with the technology, while my teammate was a friend with a wide range of interests who wanted to know how Leap Motion could help him. We began with the idea that it could be integrated with a microphone for his band to record his work and to be able to manipulate the notes in 3D in front of him. Next, we turned to more business-like applications. Based on a chemical demo we used on one of the example systems, we saw a future application in drug design and modeling. From there, it could probably also be used to scan real objects, edit them on the program, and reproduce physical versions of the altered objects using a 3D printer. Next, we saw a future for this system in the entertainment industry by using it as a way to put people in the middle of their favorite games. The judges seemed very pleased by this idea. Finally, we talked about making the system more independent in the future by using a hologram to remove the requirement of having a video screen.

    Even if my background in chemistry and biochemistry does not give me much experience with making skits, I was pleased to see how much of the challenge I could relate directly to my studies and research. The demo system we tested out included a chemical modeling system very similar to one I tried out at the recent American Chemical Society meeting in Indianapolis. At the conference, the system and its software were very bulky and expensive, but it seemed like this setup was much more portable and affordable. Likewise, my research lab recently obtained a 3D printer. Thus, any future application through which we could scan and reproduce objects would be very helpful for our fabrication processes. Even if the concept of performing a skit was foreign to my major, the concepts we used to create the skit were not.

    My team did not win this week, but we were able to use the challenge to imagine new and exciting innovations for an emerging technology. I also am glad that I was able to meet and to work with someone from outside my field. Finally, I am very interested in seeing how many of our predictions for this technology come true. Nonetheless, it seems like our imaginations limit innovation much more than any technical challenges can.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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  • "DisAbility" Challenge

    October 10, 2013
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    Student Reflection - October 9, 2013

    It was another great day at the Weekly Innovation Challenge. As usual, I came excited to find out what today’s challenge was about. The challenge organizers have never failed me with surprises of the impromptu. Yet I was anxious and prepared at the same time. Today I had the opportunity to work with two other bright team members; a junior from the business school and a fellow graduate student of mine in the engineering school. They were both amazing as far as coming up with ideas; in fact, it was hard for us to choose from the number of ideas we had come up with.

    Today’s challenge, titled “DisAbility”, was to conceptualize a device or equipment to help people who only have one hand to assist them at their workplace. I thought this was a very meaningful challenge since the end design could directly benefit people with a disability. I really liked the idea of this challenge. The concept could either be sketched, drawn, or even prototyped with the craft materials given. Teams were given 45 minutes to brainstorm, conceptualize, and create their design. Then each team performed a 90-second pitch to the judges at the end.

    When talking about people working with only one hand, there is only so much one could think about. We were allowed to do research in this challenge, including web searches. We had first thought of a “one-handed keyboard”, however, we soon realized that it was a popular choice among other teams as well as in our market research. We also found that most ideas surrounded only office-type workplaces. So we took a step back and asked ourselves, what about other types of work, other professions, or even personal accommodations?

    For example, drivers, construction workers, or how people wash their hands. So we researched further to find existing designs as well as the market size for different industries. We came across table-waiting jobs, which is a surprisingly large market in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. There were about 2.2 million waiter/waitress jobs in the U.S. alone in 2010. Then we looked at how the disability problem is almost untapped. We discussed how difficult it is for waiters/waitresses to deliver foods to their customers’ table with one hand being occupied with a tray. For those with only one hand, it is practically not doable. Some restaurants use portable stands that waiters can carry with them to the table, but it is still not a feasible option for people with one hand. So we came up with a design of a tray with built-in foldable stands. The tray offers a handle on top with a release button to deploy the folded stands when needed. Pressing the button and pushing down on the tray can fold the stand back up. We pitched our concept with a sketch and a roughly made prototype. During the presentation, we conveyed three key points of the design, which was uniqueness, uncharted market, and the usability that it offers. One may dispute the number of one-handed waiters currently in the market is small, hence, this will allow for more such workers, not to mention it could be helpful to all waiters.

    We ended up winning the challenge over some other great designs. We were very proud of our design and personally, I was very pleased even if our design wasn’t picked. With the meaningful challenge concept, the excitement to make something useful, and the great collaboration between the team members, it had come down to a great ending. This challenge not only instilled the experience of brainstorming and problem-solving, it also made me spur creative ideas, outside-the-box thinking, and applying our classroom knowledge to create something for the community. This was another truly innovation challenge! I would not think twice to compete again!

    Winning Reflection - Aaron Phu

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  • Angel Investment Challenge

    October 3, 2013
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    Student Reflection - October 2, 2013

    This week I had the chance to participate in the Weekly Innovation Challenge. It is always a great opportunity to meet and network with new people from outside my field. This time, I was working with a junior mechanical engineer and a freshman aerospace engineer. Today’s event, the “Angel Investment Challenge,” was the first one I have been able to attend this semester. Our objective seemed simple at first, but the Weekly Innovation Challenge can often be deceptive. We were to watch a series of Kickstarter videos for new companies, and then we had to allocate a theoretical two million dollar fund among the companies in order to maximize our return. The goal was to pick the best projects and beat out the other teams with our investments.

    Even if it was an investment competition, I found that his challenge required a wide range of skills. While some business training might have been helpful, my scientific background as a biochemistry major gave me a better perspective on some of the ideas. Likewise, my engineering teammates had little difficulty in seeing why one device or another might succeed or fail. Nonetheless, I realized that I was also biased by my background. The first project for a publicly operable space telescope seemed really cool to me, but my teammates were able to evaluate it more objectively. We ended up not investing in it, and we later found out the company collapsed with zero return.

    Overall, my team used a number of techniques to evaluate the projects. While specific chemical or engineering knowledge was useful for ideas like a desktop fabrication system, the whole range of projects exceeded our combined experience. Instead, we tried to expand our thinking to also include more business-oriented concepts like demand and production. For example, some ideas like a new lighting system for bikes on dark roadways seemed interesting but were not worth funding because they had no manufacturing centers. Even simple clues gave us more insight into the projects. A few of the videos showed large design teams to indicate high levels of training and organization, but others were only the inventor making the advertisement from inside a home workshop. It was quite a challenge to combine all of these factors into our decision.

    Ultimately, we needed to decide how to divide our money. It seemed fairly safe to spread out funding among several companies, but one of my teammates correctly reasoned that this low risk strategy would not set us above our competing teams. An average return could never make us the best. Instead, we settled on dividing our money among three projects: a pair of sports recording devices and a tabletop gardening system. This division ended up netting us more than four times our initial investment at the end of the challenge. Unfortunately, a pair of teams invested completely in a single project that we had rejected. They made a significantly higher return, winning the contest. Nonetheless, I was pleased with my team’s performance. Even if we did not win, we were still a group of scientists and engineers showing a good investment strategy. I also think our division of risk was an important and more realistic approach in which our entire investment could not fail with one company. In the end, my teammates and I showed that through collaboration, even people with little business experience can make new ideas work.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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