Students from Virginia Tech’s Industrial Design Program are garnering recognition in national and international competitions at a remarkable rate. In fact, in the past two months, students have taken top prizes in three competitions and have been named finalists in a fourth.

“We've won plenty of competitions before, but we've never had a run like this,” said Ed Dorsa, chair of the Industrial Design Program at Virginia Tech. Dorsa attributes much of the success to a curriculum that stresses a design process to find creative solutions to challenges.

“The Industrial Design Program at Virginia Tech endeavors to catalyze a student’s independence and stresses experimentation and learning by doing. Students are regularly presented with umbrella issues and challenged to identify the unmet needs under that umbrella. They then use the design process, coupled with their unique interests and problem-solving abilities, to resolve those needs. These competitions are examples of how this process works, as each student chose to address a different unmet need under a different umbrella issue: longevity, sustainability, household needs, and connected devices,” Dorsa said.

Stanford Center on Longevity’s Design Challenge

A team of third-year industrial design students has been selected as one of twelve finalists in the Stanford Center on Longevity’s third annual Design Challenge. University students from around the world submitted entries around this year’s theme, “Using Happiness to Optimize Longevity,” with finalists coming from as far away as Taiwan and Turkey. This year’s challenge has two categories, Mind and Mobility, reflecting the center’s mission to help people reach old age mentally sharp and physically fit.

Sarah Ahart of Sterling, Virginia, Adam Bujnowski of Chicago, Illinois, and Emily Cowell of Olney, Maryland, are finalists in the competition for their entry “Veevo,” a compact, in-home workout station that folds out into five different exercises — then folds back into a usable end table. The project originated in a Senior Living Studio sponsored by SFCS Architects in Roanoke and led by Associate Professor Brook Kennedy and Associate Professor Bill Green. Kennedy encouraged the group to submit their design to the Stanford Challenge.

One representative from each finalist team will travel to Stanford to pitch their designs to industry leaders for final judging on April 5. In total, finalists will receive over $50,000 in prizes, mentorship, and sponsored travel, with the two grand prize winners receiving seed money to turn their designs into real products.

Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge

This challenge, sponsored by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, aimed to eliminate the concept of waste by designing materials that may be recycled to retain their value as nutrients to fuel-growing global economies.

Senior Gabriella Jacobsen of McLean, Virginia, won the student design competition with her concept for the “Onward Bag,” designed to address the issue of the plastic bags that are a major pollutant in oceans and waterways. The bag itself is made from 60 to 70 recycled plastic bags, a yard of organic cotton canvas, canvas thread, and biodegradable dye. It is designed to reduce not only plastic waste, but also carbon dioxide emissions, by taking advantage of the already processed plastic bags.

Among the other finalists were Virginia Tech industrial design students Cole Smith of Charlottesville, Virginia, for his “Chloro Solar Vase,” Alex Chiles of Seattle, Washington, for her “Mix Refillable Bottle,” and Ashleigh Otto of Lousia, Virginia, for her “ROOTS Compost Tumbler.”  

International Housewares Association Student Design Competition

Senior Chris Crowley of Oyster Bay, New York, won the IHA’s annual Student Design Competition for his “Only Paint Brush.” His first place design was selected from among 325 entries.

“The main inspiration for the design was the pen, which I consider to be the ultimate tool,” Crowley said. “The paintbrush that I designed features a built in cap that doubles as its handle, much like how a good pen has a cap that fits seamlessly into its design. This cap prevents the brush’s bristles from being damaged during storage or transport. The cap also acts as an airtight seal so you can take breaks from painting without worrying about the paint drying onto your bristles.”

The IHA Student Design Competition includes demonstrating user and market research, design thinking, engineering drawings, and tested prototypes. The judging process teaches students what employers will expect of them in their futures. As the winner, Crowley will receive $3000, an award trophy gift and airfare and lodging to attend and show his design at the 2016 International Home + Housewares Show March 4-8, 2016, in Chicago, Illinois.  

Connected Future Competition sponsored by Autodesk

Autodesk defines a connected product as, “a consumer product that connects with another device, collects or streams data to a platform that can be used to gain insight, take an action, or manipulate something.” The Connected Future Competition challenged students to share their ideas for an innovation or invention, or an improvement to a product or device they use every day.

The first place entry by senior Ari Horowitz of Dix Hills, New York, was the "SoftStroke 360°," a smart toothbrush designed to help improve dental habits.

“I came up with the concept originally when researching methods to prevent dental cavities and gum disease. Over-brushing teeth with too much pressure is a common occurrence and leads to gum recession and the scratching of tooth enamel,” Horowitz said. “'The SoftStroke 360°' is ergonomically designed to be held by your fingertips, encouraging a finer, controlled and gentler brushing. The brush, through a smartphone app, is able to learn the user’s sleeping and brushing schedule, and will send a phone notification if a skipped brushing session is detected. The brush also calibrates to the mapping of a user’s mouth using a combination of smart sensors and shows where you have brushed and where you have missed through a visual diagram.”

The three other finalists of the competition were Virginia Tech industrial design students Jarett Volkoff of Morgan Hill, California, for “Tap: The Smart Soil Sensor,” Luisa Lacsamana of Centreville, Virginia, for “WAVE,” and Katie Simmons of Virginia Beach, Virginia, for “Kai: Communication and Navigation Device for Kayakers.”

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