by Joel Delgado and Alexandra Pecharich
Creativity reigned last week when three departments in the College of Engineering & Computing each held its own Senior Design Day, a chance for undergraduates to show off final projects and be judged by industry professionals.
Of the nine groups that participated, one team set out to develop a device to make drug injections more efficient, less costly and safer.
Working with company sponsor SHL-Pharma over an eight-month period, the students were successful in developing a prototype that vents out air bubbles in a liquid drug prior to its injection into the body. Such bubbles have the potential to block bloods vessels that can cause everything from pain to serious damage.
When the team’s members – Carlos Garcia, Hanna Robla, Astrid Rodriguez and Michael Sours – presented their project for final judging, theirs was awarded first place.
“We were able to create a product that works and might be used on a wider scale,” Garcia said. “It took a lot of work and time, but this makes it all worth it.”
Among the other projects were a design for a modular knee that simulates a real joint and could be used for clinical testing and a device for more effective incubation of blood samples.
“These projects show that our students are hard-working and passionate,” interim dean Ranu Jung said. “It shows that they have very innovative solutions and have the ability to translate what they have learned into the wellbeing of the community.”
Hamid Shahrestani, an adjunct professor and CEO of Qualtech Solutions, Inc., served as a judge and was impressed with the soon-to-be-graduates’ ability to work through obstacles.
“In all the projects, you see the tenacity required to overcome challenges. They’re learning and doing at the same time,” Shahrestani said. “Everything they’re doing is towards improving human health and human life, which makes it very meaningful for them.”
Solving problems was the name of the game, and for one team that meant helping to speed customers through stores’ checkout lines. “When you’re in Walmart, Publix, it takes, like, five minutes, 10 minutes,” Santiago Valerio said of the dreaded wait to pay for purchases. “We wanted something that’s instant, fast.”
Enter Kart Express, which simultaneously scans all items in a shopping cart when a shopper passes through a designated area. An itemized list, with prices, flashes up on a screen along with a calculated total. Payment can be made with the push of a button and is tied to a credit or debit card attached to a store account. “You don’t even have to take out your wallet,” team member Silvia Vidaurre added.
A total of 27 projects were displayed, among them a cabinet system that lowers to accommodate users in wheelchairs, a battery-operated skateboard that recharges as the rider moves along, a digital wallet with high-tech security features and a robot programmed to work with autistic children. They are the culmination of two semesters of work, which included doing research, looking for industry support, considering legal and marketing aspects, recruiting a professor to serve as a mentor and, not least of all, designing and building the device.
Elicer Viamontes, a distribution operations manager for Florida Power & Light and two-time FIU alumnus, helped evaluate projects.
“You can see the caliber of the students—very well prepared and very up-to-date with some of the modern technological practices,” Viamontes said. “You can tell the engineers are more well-rounded than they were 10 years ago when I was in school here.”
Twenty-one teams presented designs for projects as diverse as an urban search-and-rescue robot, a hybrid solar and wind power station and an underwater research apparatus. Among the judges were individuals from such high-profile organizations as medical-device manufacturers Beckman Coulter and Bionucleaonics, U.S. Air Force Research Labs, UTC Aerospace Systems and FPL and others.
One of the teams will take its design next month to NASA’s annual Robotic Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center. The TerraMartian Prowler is designed to collect and transport soil on Mars in anticipation of constructing a human environment. Forty universities will participate, and companies such as Caterpillar and SpaceX will be on site looking for new talent.
“One of the biggest rewards will be to get some exposure, for the school and for ourselves,” said team member Joel Hernandez of the weeklong competition. It will be the culmination of an intensive learning collaboration with three other students.
“This project was very hands-on,” he explained. “There were a bunch of setbacks, things not going our way, or not working the way it was supposed to, so we had to constantly be thinking on our toes, improving what we can as fast as possible. We believe all the cuts and bruises we earned along the way will serve us well for our careers.”