Bullex, launched at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received Advanced E-Team grants in 2003, 2004 and 2005 to develop the Intelligent Training System (ITS), an innovative fire extinguisher training device. The majority of today's live-fire extinguisher training is done by taking a bucket and filling it with kerosene or diesel, and water. After an instructor lights the fire, a trainee is given an extinguisher and told to put it out. This method is expensive, can be dangerous, and often requires a HAZMAT cleanup.
ITS makes fire extinguisher training more efficient by simulating the extinguishing of a real fire, removing costly extinguishant from the equation. First, flames are generated in a clean-burning, propane-fed pan equipped with digital sensors. If users aim properly and hit the sensors, they can quell the fire without the mess. The sensors then give out a reading on how well a trainee used the extinguisher. The device is cleaner, safer, and easier to use than the traditional training method.
2003 update: Bullex launched successfully in 2003, and now has 60 employees and estimated annual sales of $7.3 million. The company was featured in Fortune Small Business Magazine after making it to the final round of the magazine's national business plan competition, receiving honorable mention. Their customers include the US Navy, Northrop Grumman, Michelin, International Truck, and Trane.
Of the more than thirteen million individuals in fifty-five developing countries that depend on small-scale gold mining to survive, most employ an ancient and harmful practice called "mercury amalgamation" in order to extract the gold. After panning for gold in local bodies of water, the miners pour gold-bonding mercury into their pans to form a solid paste. They wash off excess mercury into the water and boil down the paste to yield pure gold. The mercury in the water poisons the miners, the communities living downstream, and pollutes the environment. The European Union, the world's largest global exporter of mercury, will soon ban mercury exports, putting tens of millions of artisanal gold miners out of work.
This E-Team has a solution: an inexpensive (~$30), manually powered centrifugal gold extraction device. Based on industrial-size gold centrifuges, the device uses lightweight modern plastics to create a hand crank-based centrifuge capable of extracting gold with little effort and without requiring mercury.
Two competitors exist, but both of their solutions still require the use of at least some mercury.
Household energy use accounts for one-fifth of the total energy consumed annually in the US. Better insulation would lead to a reduction in energy consumption, but today's most popular forms of insulation have significant drawbacks in the form of health risks, high cost, and large environmental footprints.
This E-Team developed Greensulate, an environmentally friendly home insulation material. Greensulate is a composite board made up of insulating particles suspended in a matrix of mycelium-growth-stage mushroom cells. This mushroom-based insulation is biodegradable, low cost, produces no pollution in the manufacturing process, and insulates as well as competing products.
They've since focused on developing and selling Ecocradle, a green alternative to polystyrene/Styrofoam packaging.
Update: the team is now incorporated as Ecovative Design. The company won 500,000 euros at Picnic Green Challenge 2008, the world's premier green ideas conference, in Amsterdam, received SBIR Phase I funding from the EPA, and won the DoE's Renewable Energy Laboratory's Clean Energy Venture Awards. Click here to visit their website.
Worldwide, 2,000 people each month are killed or maimed by land mines. Humanitarian de-mining projects are underway, and fall into two categories, manual and mechanical. Manual de-mining involves a person in protective gear prodding the ground for hours, and while effective, it is very slow and can be dangerous. Mechanical de-mining involves the use of robots to explode mines, but current robots are either very expensive ($500,000) or are unproven and not widely implemented.
This E-Team is developing a low-cost, disposable robot de-miner. Reasoning that the high cost of most robot de-miners comes from the fact that they are built for repeated detonations, and therefore need to be very sturdy, the team's robot is lower-tech, consisting of spike rollers, a steering mechanism, and a pressure concentrator to detonate the mine. The idea is to deploy a "swarm" of $50 one-shot robots to clear a minefield. The team has developed an alpha prototype.
Solar power has long been seen as a viable alternative to fossil fuel-based power, but has remained too expensive to force a trend in the residential market, where outfitting your home with photovoltaic panels can cost up to $40,000. Current panels are themselves non-sustainable: they require a large amount of energy to manufacture, and the materials are non-recyclable.
This E-Team is looking to solve both problems with SolarPads, an inexpensive, recyclable photovoltaic panel. The design uses compound parabolic concentrators to widen the panel’s range and increase its concentration ratio, which means that fewer photovoltaic cells need to be used, lowering the cost. It also uses an inflatable wedge system that allows the panel to rotate to a position closest to the sun. Overall, the team is aiming for a panel that is 90% cheaper than similar solar panels.
In continental Europe and the UK, the parking industry has developed innovative solutions to accommodate the increase of cars in limited spaces, but parking technology in the US hasn't reflected these industry changes. Recognizing the need for improved parking technology in the US, this E-Team has developed appropriate technology in response. With Preora, ImargenAR's proprietary technology, wireless sensors in each parking spot alert drivers to empty spots within the lot.
For lot owners and managers, the sensor technology provides constant, accurate information on parking lot occupancy and allows them to keep the lot at full capacity and serve customers better. The sensor system is compatible with automated payment systems, like E-Zpass, and bar code scanners at each spot ensure that customers park in their allotted spaces. Preora could also aid in increased security if linked with license plate scanners and facial recognition systems, monitoring those entering or leaving the lot.
With the sensor system, customers can reserve a space over the Internet or telephone.
The major limiting factor in the lifetime of total hip prosthesis is wear and its incumbent problems. The current implant lifetime is ten or fifteen years, which is typically insufficient for most active patients, and revision surgeries are often necessary.
This grant supported the development of patent protection and the pursuit of licensing agreements for a novel approach to increasing the durability of artificial replacement hip joints. The team consisted of one student and a broad group of advisors working to develop basic technology sufficient to obtain patent protection and initiate licensing arrangements.
The innovation is a method of mimicking the lubrication capabilities of natural cartilage with a synthetic matrix containing molecules that mimic the weeping and ionic re-uptake of synovial liquid that protects the bearing surfaces.
This grant supports the creation of an E-Team "clinic" for continuing projects from an existing Introduction to Engineering Design course or other sources. Funding supports prototyping, patenting, market research, and further product development. The technically oriented teams of engineering majors each sell their ideas to business students from the management school business planning class. Students work with mentors to write business plans as they refine their products. Each semester, three to five teams work on patenting and commercializing their products. The students work on the projects on a non-credit basis, register for independent study credit, or complete projects for other classes
The Climbing High to Fitness E-Team has created the Wall Climber 2000 (WC2000), an indoor rock climbing simulator for use as a training instrument and low impact exercise machine. The WC2000 consists of a collapsible climbing deck that rotates with a speed and incline chosen by the user. The hand and foot holds, made of rubber to simulate a rocky surface, change as the climbing deck rotates, according to the difficulty level chosen by the user.
At this stage, the Climbing High to Fitness E-Team is creating an advanced prototype of the WC2000. In addition, the team is working to better understand the exercise equipment market, by conducting market research and drafting a business plan. In the fall the E-Team plans to apply for a patent. The Climbing High to Fitness E-Team originated in a team based design course at RPI and is composed of five engineering students.
The OmniSport E-Team has designed the SideWinder, an electric wheelchair capable of moving in any direction while the rider faces forward. Using any number of compatible input control devices such as a joystick, mouse, track ball, or voice control the rider controls the wheelchairs motions through a track ball drive system. The increased mobility offered by this design provides the rider with the choice of participating in a wider variety of sports and offers greater accessibility in the office and home.
The OmniSport E-Team is now in the process of researching the market potential of the SideWinder and determining the feasibility of the technology. The team originated in an introductory engineering design course, and consists of three engineering students, and a faculty advisor. The team is recruiting advisors with adaptive equipment expertise.