Engineering students shine at SXSW

SXSW2The Texas A&M University College of Engineering took part in Texas A&M’s presence at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin last month, bringing several exciting aspects of the college to visitors to the ‘Texas A&M House’ at the Hotel Van Zandt in downtown Austin.

The college’s participation was highlighted by the main event, Texas A&M Invents for an Intelligent Future, which closed with College of Engineering Vice Chancellor and Dean Dr. M. Katherine Banks awarding more than $10,000 to three student teams.

Twelve Texas A&M students worked for two days in this intensive design experience to develop technology that will make an intelligent future a reality. They competed in a preliminary competition on campus to earn their spots at SXSW.

The judges were impressed with all three teams, but Team DeHydraTect took the top spot and a $5,000 award. Second place went to Team Tobor, who received a $3,500 award for their innovation and Pulse Labs took third place and a $2,500 award. Following the competition, all teams have either filed or will be filing for provisional patents on their innovations.

DeHydraTect stole the show with a pacifier to noninvasively detect hydration levels in infants to better prevent dehydration. The team consisted of Magy Avedissian (petroleum engineering), Nga Tang (medical student), Joey Wippold (biomedical engineering) and Kurt Parizek (biomedical engineering).

TOBOR brought a novel material that provides more strength and resistance to additive manufacturing. The team included Philip Bowie (electrical and computer engineering), Coleman Fincher (mechanical engineering), Wesley Kuehn (manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology) and Jana Soares (MBA candidate).

Pulse Labs retrofit a new technology onto old devices to bring them into the internet of things. The team consisted of Momore Adesanmi (chemical engineering), Bhavani Bedre Shankar (computer engineering), James O’Connell (mechanical engineering) and Pavan Shetty (electrical engineering). Their team also was named “Most Popular” through the college’s social media contest. 

The panel of judges, led by former NASA rocket scientist and comedian Shayla Rivera, included Stephen P. Rodriguez, founder of One Defense; Charles Schroeder, vice president of Product Marketing for RF and Wireless Communications for National Instruments; and Dr. Gregory Chamitoff, Texas A&M professor of practice in the aerospace engineering department and director of the AeroSpace Technology, Research & Operations (ASTRO) Center. 

“SXSW brings technology to a global stage,” said Rodney Boehm, director of the Engineering Entrepreneurship Program. “Texas A&M University Invents for the Intelligent Future allowed the world to see how Texas A&M promotes student innovation and entrepreneurship in the college of engineering.”


Interactive Zones

SXSW1While the teams were working on their products, visitors to the Texas A&M House had the opportunity to experience some innovative projects going on within the college of engineering.

Chamitoff had a group of students take visitors on a virtual walk on Mars and flights through space with SpaceCRAFT, a virtual reality “sandbox” platform developed by an interdisciplinary group of students with guidance from NASA experts that they will be releasing in beta later this year. Students from Chamitoff’s group not only ran the interactive zone, but also took time to teach people who were waiting about the importance of the work that the group is doing. 

"SpaceCRAFT has the potential to make space exploration accessible to individual users across the world,” graduate student Mauricio Coen said. “We are shortening the gap between the expertise and software that large space agencies have and the enthusiasm that is out there for space exploration. We have 60-plus undergraduate and graduate students working on the many fronts that the platform requires, and we're getting more interest to contribute daily. At SXSW, we showcased individual scenarios that combine virtual reality, engineering and user interaction to demonstrate the capability of the platform."

Another crowd favorite was the robot raceway, which was designed and built by students at the Engineering Innovation Center. The students worked into the night to have the racetrack ready to go for visitors to the house, and their hard work paid off. Visitors raced against each other, and the clock, all weekend for a Texas A&M gift basket.

The robots themselves were designed and built by students within from the Electronics Systems Engineering Technology and Multidisciplinary Engineering Technology Programs’ Mobile Integrated Solutions Laboratory (MISL).

“It was exciting to have freshman engineering students working side-by-side with seniors from the Engineering Innovation Center and MISL to make Robot Road a huge success,” said Dr. Joseph Morgan, professor and director of the MISL. “Teamwork and the Aggie spirit brought it all together to show others the innovation and creativity within the college of engineering.”

Visitors also got to practice their hand at a virtual surgery simulator and Engineering Outreach was on hand with Sphero robots to entertain younger visitors as well.


Formula SAE

To close out the college of engineering’s presence at SXSW, the 2016-17 Formula SAE team comprised of mechanical engineering students unveiled this year’s car to a crowd of people outside the Texas A&M House.

Ahmed Mahmoud ’87, chief information officer at General Motors, spoke at the unveiling and said that sponsoring the Formula SAE team was an easy decision. In fact, several students from previous teams have gone on to work for General Motors, and this year’s team leader Ryan Monheim will be going to work there after graduation. 

“This was one of the things that General Motors looks for,” Mahmoud said. “We’re looking for institutions that are into transformational learning. We’re looking for institutions that have global reach. And this program, the fact that they sort of design the car from scratch every single year, gives a competitive advantage for any of the hires. Because at the end of the day, for us, it’s all about the students.”

Monheim, along with the team’s business and communications lead Rebecca Novak, who will also be working in the auto industry next year, were interviewed by KBTX about their car. Between the interviews and the exposure the team received by being part of the event, Novak said their presence at SXSW was a successful undertaking.

"SXSW was an amazing opportunity for our team,” she said. “A lot of hard work went into getting the car designed, manufactured and ready for roll out so it was quite rewarding to see everything come together for the first time in such an extravagant way. Our team had been involved in planning this event since November and have worked hard to make the event a success. We are so pleased with how everything turned out and we are incredibly proud of all of our hard work."

The Formula SAE team will continue to test and work on the car leading up the championships this June in Omaha, Nebraska.