Improving call quality and network coverage of cellular phone systems in an economically viable way is the one of the major concerns of service providers today. The quality of current wireless communication systems could be significantly improved by the use of a narrow band tunable antenna in cell phone handsets to increase network coverage, reduce the cost of materials used for manufacturing cell phones, and improve battery life. The Barium Strontium Titanate (BST) Antenna E-Team developed a low-cost method of fabricating a voltage tunable BST-based antenna.
Over the past three years, the Materials Science and Engineering Department at North Carolina State University has developed a thin film voltage controlled capacitor (varactor) using BST. The BST Antenna E-Team adapted the BST thin film technology to produce high quality integral varactors, which can be used to manufacture narrow band tunable antennas.
The BST-based antenna will help service providers increase their revenues and enable better wireless service for end-users, allowing them to differentiate their products in a highly competitive market.
Today's standard, non-custom-built wheelchairs lack the ability to adapt to the user, leading to discomfort and health problems when used in long-term care situations in nursing homes, hospitals, and assisted living facilities. With no ability to adjust, larger residents are crammed into smaller chairs, and, with no headrest on the chair back, people without muscle strength in their neck are left with their heads falling to one side. Bigger wheelchairs with headrests exist, but cost 300% more than standard wheelchairs--a prohibitive cost for most facilities. In response to this problem, this E-Team developed a wheelchair that can expand from the usual 18" wide and 16" deep seating surface to 22" wide and 18" deep, and comes with an adjustable headrest. The goal of the team was to develop a cost-efficient, adjustable manual wheelchair that addresses the common problems of people who use standard, generic wheelchairs in long-term situations.
The E-Team consisted of seven mechanical engineering majors, one with business administration experience and one with patent experience. Advisors included a professor of mechanical engineering and design as well as three members of Keen Mobility, a former NCIIA E-Team that has gone on to form a successful company based on innovative assistive technology.
This E-Team developed the Interactive Guest Paging System (IGPS), a new restaurant pager that allows the customer to play games, view the menu, and check on the estimated waiting time while waiting to be seated. The system consists of handheld pagers with video screens and buttons wirelessly connected to a base station equipped with a touch screen, mouse, keyboard, pager charging bay, software to update the menu, and a wireless transceiver.
The team, which consisted of five undergraduate electrical engineering majors and one business administration undergraduate, planned to target casual dining chains such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, etc.
University of California, Berkeley, 2004 - $15,900
This E-Team developed a wireless frost protection system for California vineyards. When the temperature in vineyards reaches frost levels (38-40 degrees), the system automatically turns on frost-prevention equipment and alerts the field manager of any trouble. The system consists of temperature-monitoring Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) deployed in the field, a computer interface showing the field manager a map of the vineyard and the temperature at each WSN, and ultra-bright LEDs in the field acting as beacons that communicate system operation and temperature zones, allowing a field manager to drive around and gauge vineyard condition from afar.
The current method of protecting crops from frost is simple and effective, but antiquated: when temperature dips, an alarm wakes the field manager, who drives around the vineyard checking thermometers and manually activating wind generators, which pull in warm air from higher elevations. Field managers usually do not go back to sleep to ensure no problems arise with the generators, leading to extreme sleep deficiency during frost spells. The E-Team's system automatically turns on the generators and allows the field manager to check on their operation remotely.
The E-Team consisted of two mechanical engineering PhD students, a mechanical engineering graduate student, an MBA candidate, and an industrial design student. Advisors to the team included the director of the Management of Technology program at UC Berkeley, a winegrowing manager for Gallo Vineyards, a viticulturalist, and a product design and strategy consultant.
This E-Team developed a new sensor technology, the Non-contacting Resistance Displacement Transducer (NRDT). Used primarily in the metalworking, military/aerospace, and automotive markets, displacement sensors allow accurate control of everything from robotic arms to manufacturing assembly lines. The dominant sensor on the market today is the Linear Variable Displacement Transducer (LVDT), which, while precise and robust, is expensive due to its complex structure. While researching an unrelated problem, this E-Team came up with the NRDT, a device that offers far better performance than LVDTs at a fraction of the cost. NRDT's advantage lies in its simple design, allowing the device to get less expensive as it gets smaller, while still delivering optimal performance. LVDTs, on the other hand, become more expensive as they get smaller.
Update: After winning first place in the "Most Fundable" category of the 2005 Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition, the NRDT team took its product to market. They have formed a company, Sentrinsic (intrinsic sensing), have two patents pending, have received over $150k in funding, and made their first sale in April 2006.
This E-Team developed the Shelton Wing in Ground Effect (SWIG) vehicle, a type of airplane/boat that skims the surface of water. Flying near the ground reduces drag and increases lift, allowing Wing In Ground (WIG) vehicles to move at high speeds while consuming little fuel. However, traditional WIG vehicles have significant stability and control problems, causing frequent wrecks and preventing them from achieving commercial success. Computerized flight controls have solved the stability problems of large WIG vehicles, but are too costly to be practical for small WIG vehicles. Three-axis airplane-like controls solve the stability problem as well, but require special pilot training, creating a barrier to wide commercialization. To solve these problems, this E-Team innovated the WIG, adding forward wheels to the wings (skis for water operation) that stay in light contact with the surface. The wheels balance the pitching of the vehicle, creating a reliably safe, fast, and fuel-efficient transport.
The E-Team consisted of two senior finance majors, a senior astrophysics major, a senior advertising/public relations major, and a senior aerospace engineering student with pilot experience. Advisors to the team included three professors of aerospace engineering, a patent attorney, and a financial consultant.
This E-Team developed a Wi-fi-enabled portable internet radio. The device is a standard MP3 player with the added ability to access internet radio through existing Wi-fi networks. The operating system for the device has a plug-in that is essentially a streamlined web browser with access to one internet site, created by the team, that provides links to all available internet radio stations (estimated at 10,000 in 2002).
There are no portable internet radio devices on the market. Satellite radio is the only similar service; satellite radio, however, offers 122-125 channels depending on the provider, and has content very similar to traditional radio. On the other hand, thousands of internet radio stations are in existence, offering a much more diverse selection of music.
This E-Team developed The Helping Hand, a holding device for writing instruments designed for individuals with limited hand function. The device consists of an ergonomically designed, ambidextrous top shape that lets the hand rest in its natural position, a clasp for the writing instrument, and a base plate with roller bearings. The device naturally sits in the "up" position, and, through the use of a light spring, is pushed down by the weight of the person's hand when writing. The person uses forearm and shoulder movements to write, and when ready to move to another spot on the paper, simply lifts up the arm and rolls the device across the paper.
This E-Team is working toward establishing profitable, sustainable, coconut-based business ventures owned and operated by poor people living within ten degrees latitude of the equator, where coconut trees thrive. The team is researching the marketability and effectiveness of four coconut-based products: bio-diesel (from coconut oil), pig and chicken feed (from the white "meat"), particle board (from coconut shells), and anti-erosion matting (from the fuzzy fibers on the coconut shell). The team has already made bio-diesel for rural electrification using diesel generators, and demonstrated that pigs and chickens will eat and prosper on coconut meat. With NCIIA funding the team is developing simple, affordable technologies to separate the coconut's meat, shell, and fuzz and convert them into feed, particle board, and matting.
The E-Team consists of two undergraduates in engineering, one graduate in engineering, and two MBAs. The distinguished professor of engineering at Baylor, as well as the head of the department of mechanical engineering at Papua New Guinea Technical University, are team leaders. Advisors to the team include two professors of management and entrepreneurship at Baylor.
This E-Team developed a new device designed for the early detection of acute renal failure (ARF). The device uses laser technology and Raman spectroscopy to provide data on metabolite excretion rates in near real-time (high levels of metabolite excretion are indicative of ARF). The device enables the detection of ARF in hospitalized patients up to 48 hours earlier than current detection methods. The detection of other biomarkers using this device is also possible, making the device useful in aiding with a number of clinical diagnoses.
ARF is seen in 5% of all hospitalized patients, and 4-15% of all patients who undergo cardiovascular surgery. It accounts for 30,000 deaths per year. Current detection methods are not effective in providing early detection of the disease, which is essential to effective treatment. By providing early detection capabilities, this device can give healthcare providers a jump start on effectively treating ARF.