Portland State University's seventh annual Cleantech Challenge showed that students are still trying to fix old problems that really should have been dealt with by now.
Team Turner Automotive won the $2,000 top prize for its low-cost kit for transforming a gas-powered car into a hydrogen vehicle. PSU mechanical engineering student Blake Turner also won the $500 prizes for Best Prototype and People's Choice Award.
Excellent Devices, a team of computer science students who invented a system of sensors for early detection of forest fires, won a $500 prize for the best pitch.
Turner Automotive and Excellent Devices will advance to the statewide InventOR Collegiate Challenge invention competition at PSU in June.
Mussel is a water drone for cleaning up floating trash. The Pacific trash gyre keeps growing but this could localize a solution. The mussel intervenes in rivers and lakes to scoop up plastic bags and bottles before they reach the ocean.
"With our business model and low-cost design, our goal is to have a global impact on improving water quality," said Juliaan Bossuyt, visiting scholar, mechanical and materials engineering. Bossuyt, who is from Belgium, which is famous for its mussels, said that even the propellers were 3D-printed and wrapped around a cheap electric motor to save money. The controller uses an app to mark out a territory and the watercraft buzzes up and down in straight lines, like a robotic lawnmower. A plastic mesh at the rear captures floating waste and brings it into shore when it is full. The craft can ram itself up on a landing dock but it requires humans to empty it and relaunch it.
Living Window is a hydroponic system for growing food in the home. Environmental science student Talya Naftali explained how the automated system senses which nutrients to send to the water in which the plants are growing. Her team was growing lettuce in the prototype. The window could replace normal windows in a home or be a talking point in a restaurant.
Protechable aims at the thorny problem of providing foldable, disposable bike helmets. Not many people want to carry a bulky, rigid helmet around on the off chance they rent an e-scooter or shareable bike. Very much in the prototype phase, the Protechables consist of strips of cardboard taped into a webbing shape, covered in fabric.
In their pitch they said, "We understand that a great concept alone will not save lives, it must be married with strong organizational strategy — we have a goal to provide safe, affordable, and accessible protective equipment." MBA candidate Natalie Watters told the Business Tribune that they could be contained in a cannister on an e-scooter and dispensed that way.
Meals by the Day is a meal planning app designed to prevent food waste, but which has a second use as recipe book and shopping list. Team members Sreyrith Seng, an MBA candidate and Roat Seng, a software engineer, have been working on it together. Roat Seng programs at night in a language that runs on both Android and IOS platforms. Much of the work is about getting Apple to approve the app, and having it show up high in the Google Play store. "Passion and effort can result in something that can make a lasting impact," they said in their pitch.
Finally, SanctuAIRy is a technology for improving air quality in commercial aircraft cabins. If that sounds very #FirstWorldProblems, it could have applications for other confined spaces.
Judges ranked the teams based on the potential impact of their inventions,
The seven teams came from PSU programs in computer science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, environmental sustainability, economics, and business.
"The Cleantech Challenge is a testament to how PSU is nurturing the next generation of Oregon innovators," said Juan Barraza, director of student innovation at the Center for Entrepreneurship at Portland State and lead organizer of the Cleantech Challenge. "Each of these teams has a solution that can make a positive impact on our world. This competition is a showcase of that innovation, but it's not the last we'll hear from these students."
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