Bright Bots, Dexterous Drones, Tight Grooves and Great Ideas: 2023 Innovation Expo Showcased Student Ingenuity
Annual event showcases more than 200 projects demonstrating Stevens student ingenuity, teamwork, creativity and entrepreneurship
A drone that swaps batteries in midair. AI that scans cargo containers for dangerous material.
A fun software to teach us new languages.
A soil-friendlier drill for farmers. A robot that crawls and climbs through backcountry, searching for lost or injured hikers?
Yep — and those were just a few of the remarkable devices, products, ideas, services and works of art on display April 28 as Stevens’ seniors convened at the 2023 Innovation Expo to present the results of their senior-year individual and team capstone design projects.
Here’s how it all went down.
Rocking combos, rambling robots
Stevens President Nariman Farvardin and Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Jianmin Qu kicked off the day with remarks in the Babbio Center, after which Rita Gurevich ‘06 delivered the annual — and always eagerly anticipated — Thomas H. Scholl Lecture by Visiting Entrepreneurs, generously supported as always by Scholl, a Trustee Emeritus.
Gurevich, a successful cybersecurity company founder and CEO, encouraged the audience of students, families and community members to be authentic and to recognize that the journey to success and fulfillment will be emotional. She also urged continuous, focused drive toward one’s goals, among many other pieces of useful advice.
Next the scene shifted uphill, outside the university’s new University Center Complex (UCC). With President Farvardin and College of Arts and Letters (CAL) Dean Kelland Thomas looking on, graduating DJs, solo acts and bands kicked off a CAL student concert that had those in attendance clapping, swaying, whooping and just plain rocking out.
By the time Stephen Dranto ‘23 took the stage for his set midway through, it was a full-on jam. Sam Sherwood ‘23 on bass (he later also performed his own set), Matt Vera ‘23 on keyboards, Sean Donohue ‘23 on electric guitar and drummer Diego Agnasio (a friend of Dranto’s) supplied tight backing grooves for the smooth, poppy vocals.
DJs David Topchishvili ‘23 and Ryan Tapalaga ‘23 and vocalists Alex Schwindt ‘23, Vivian Zhong ‘23, Chloe Crosnier ‘23 and Kiera Kennedy ‘23 also performed.
Once the final chords of the show had rung out and reverbed, it was time for more than 200 individual and team projects to go on official public display across the Stevens campus.
In the Schaefer Athletic Center lobby, an army of scaled-down bots battled for mini-supremacy on a smallish obstacle course in the annual Gallois Autonomous Robot Competition, once again generously supported by Dr. Bernard Gallois (former dean of the School of Engineering and Science). The trio of Jacqueline Castro ‘23, Thomas Fisher ‘23 and Eli Shtindler '23 would eventually triumph.
Inside the athletic center’s Canavan Arena, as is tradition, mechanically-minded projects mostly predominated: bots, bikes, boats, probes, suits and the like. Teams demonstrated such concepts as a cooling helmet for traumatic injuries, enhancements to Stevens’ hypersonic wind tunnel and a customizable vehicle-fragrance diffusion system. Ah, the sweet smell of success.
One sustainably minded project in Canavan featured a green-fueled, strong-hulled ocean liner designed to make environmentally less impactful cruises through Earth’s polar regions. Another team displayed a compact wind turbine that can be quickly and inexpensively constructed to produce energy locally in developing nations.
Still another team displayed data from a Davidson Lab wave tank comparison test between two ferry hulls — one designed by the Stevens team — for the government of Ecuador, which is planning new green-energy ferries to its Galapagos Islands.
“The two hulls performed quite similarly, but we saw fewer acceleration spikes — which are what cause seasickness — with the twin-hulled catamaran design,” explained Kate Killian ‘23, a member of the team.
There were also civil engineering designs on showcase in Canavan for everything from a suspension bridge in Africa to a five-story mixed-used building in Bayonne, New Jersey and a pedestrian and cyclist-friendly greenway esplanade along a stretch of New York City’s East River.
Art, apps, bioscience and more in the UCC
There was plenty of senior-project action across the quad in the sparkling new UCC, too.
Downstairs, in a lower-level lobby, a plan for a proposed subterranean Martian base shared space with an intelligent agriculture system and other systems engineering projects. The adjacent pre-function space filled up with software engineering projects such as a stray cat-tracking system — Brian Setzer, call your office — and an iPhone app called GuiDAR that helps guide visually impaired users around objects in a room.
GuiDAR team member Francesca Severino ‘23 discussed the impetus for the visual-aid project.
“There is a member of my parish who became in recent years visually impaired,” explained Severino, “and I wanted to help him. He struggled with navigating alone, using the wall at times to get a sense of security. That’s sort of where this all began. Later on, he worked with us in the development process, which was really nice.”
Inside the UCC’s Tech Flex auditorium, a host of interesting biomedical devices, monitors and assistive technologies competed for attention with intriguing new student findings in biology, cancer medicine and chemistry.
MODEV team lead Jake Millburn ‘23, for instance, rolled up a pant cuff to help explain his team’s prototype for a new knee monitor that straps onto the joint and gives a quick digital readout of three different data points on the knee’s range of motion in less than 30 seconds.
“This is useful for doctors, patients, therapists and insurance companies who need more precise data on the current state of injury in the rebuilt knee,” noted Millburn.
CAL projects on display included a napping pod designed by Bryan Kang ‘23, an egg-shaped private space where users sit in a comfy bean bag that conforms to their bodies and don a special sound insulation hood while listening to calming nature sounds that help mask outside noises.
There were also works of visual art and music on exhibit in the Gallery, as well as CAL student studies exploring serious societal topics such as bias, Catholicism, NFTs, violent crime and emergency contraception.
Down the hill: computation, consultation
Just downhill in the Babbio Center, School of Business projects filled the atrium and an adjacent classroom. Research projects here included a fascinating discussion of ETF performance during the two most recent significant global economic downturns (2008 and 2020).
Other capstone projects explored topics such as the impact of COVID-19 on equities and bonds. Interestingly, there was a notable uptick in projects leveraging AI for portfolio management, market forecasting and other financial applications.
Among the consultancies carried out during the academic year by business school students were projects for JFK Airport’s international terminal developers, the New York Red Bulls Youth Academy — and a tasty one for the popular Hoboken French bakery Choc O Pain.
The team of Phuong Bui ‘23, Allison Hom ‘23, Irving Curiel-Martinez ‘23 and Jake Roberts ‘23 conducted the year-long consultancy for the bakery, analyzing eight months of sales data to extract insights into customer preferences and target groups.
“We also conducted in-person focus groups,” explained Curiel-Martinez, “in order to understand the two most common groups of customers better, their preferences, their wishes.”
“The two groups actually gave highly similar feedback,” added Roberts, “which sort of validated the approach that they were already taking as a local bakery, as well as the directions we were suggesting.”
The team eventually recommended new strategies to the business’ owners — including expanded social media use and the creation of multimedia content highlighting the artisanal baking process. They also handed out both plain and chocolate croissants from the bakery to booth visitors. (They were scrumptious.)
Not to be outdone, the nearby Gateway Academic Center also hosted a full hall of projects, mostly in computer science — including applications that automatically calculate the carbon cost of an online shopping cart, detect plagiarism, help diners order restaurant meals, and create seating charts for events.
Cargo container-scanning AI tops pitch competition
By mid-afternoon it was time for the annual Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition, a “Shark Tank” style pitch competition with a $10,000 top prize, hosted as usual by local entrepreneur Aaron Price and generously supported by the Cy and Jan Ansary Foundation.
After reading a poem authored by the chatbot ChatGPT extolling the university’s “open arms” and "campus charms,” Price introduced a panel of accomplished judges (including some alumni), who grilled representatives of the 10 finalist teams on competition, data, marketing, monetization and more.
Maritime Security — a team composed of seniors Reva Grover ‘23, Dehan Kong ‘23, Laura Mathews ‘23 (who was away at the Penn Relays representing Stevens in the women’s 100-meter hurdles), Daniel Wadler ‘23 and Samantha Weckesser ‘23 — took top prize, outswimming nine fellow sharks. Their AI scans incoming container cargo data at port facilities and flags potentially hazardous items for further inspection.
Container cargo ships catch on fire at sea about once every two weeks somewhere on the planet, the team explained during the onstage question-and-answer session, and its technology is already being utilized by the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector New York inspection facility. There’s also future market potential in extending the tech to other clients such as the cruise industry or freight operators, they added.
Second place went to team No-Till Drill. Seniors Dolcinea Carroll ‘23, Justine Schleuss ‘23, Stephen Schmidt ‘23, Jack Staub ‘23, Aaron Stultz ‘23 and Peter White ‘23 developed a drill arm to create consistent and precise furrows in agricultural fields without significantly disturbing the surrounding soil. The device can attach to existing agriculture tilling machinery, the team explained, increasing its market potential. The team received a $5,000 check for their pitch.
Third place went to the pitch for VoFix, a wearable device. The speech monitor samples sounds and motions from a speaker’s larynx, determining vocal quality and signaling when the speaker possibly needs to take a break. The team of Andre Faubert ‘23, Susan George ’23, Matthew Halvorsen ‘23, Rachel Pinho ‘23 and Carter Rosen ‘23 was awarded a $2,500 check.
Other finalists presented such ideas as a fun language-learning software, a new type of CPAP mask and a monitor for diabetic foot disorders.
After the three winners were presented with oversized checks, the day concluded with closing remarks by President Farvardin, followed by a reception in the Babbio atrium and the adjacent patio overlooking the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline.