With a project offering a new way to fix drooping eyelids, a team of biomedical engineering majors won the top prize at the Fall 2014 Capstone Design Expo.
The OculoSeal team – Mohamad Ali Najia, Jackie Borinski, Drew Padilla and Andy Kolpitcke – designed a device that seals and cuts to correct ptosis, the drooping of the upper eyelid. The group’s project, sponsored by Dr. Denise Kim at Emory University Hospital, could also have implications for laparoscopic, gastrointestinal and biopsy procedures.
Health was a common theme among Thursday’s winning concepts, drawn from the 105 teams competing in the expo. The biannual event showcases work from senior design courses, in which undergraduates research problems, create prototypes, and offer solutions. Previous winners have gone on to receive patents and found companies based on their research.
Held at McCamish Pavilion, the fall edition featured students majoring in mechanical engineering (ME), biomedical engineering (BME), electrical and computer engineering (ECE), industrial and systems engineering (ISyE), and industrial design.
“You taught each other; you learned from each other,” Professor Bill Wepfer, chair of the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, reminded participants during the awards ceremony. “The sky’s the limit.”
As judges, volunteers and families swirled through McCamish, the event took on an air of pageantry. Several teams coordinated outfits or wore costumes to match their work’s theme, with Home Depot aprons, CSX hard hats, and bright yellow suspenders standing out among the crowds.
The Stroke of Genius team, another health-focused group, earned accolades for a golf cart that allows children with paralysis to participate in golf. Sponsored by the Bobby Jones Foundation, the Chiari & Syringomyelia Foundation, and E-Z-GO, the team won for best interdisciplinary project.
E-Z-Go also sponsored the RED Team, which took home the award for best mechanical engineering project. The group focused on transporting injured people to medical centers via off-road vehicles, and they designed a prototype for much cheaper than anything now being sold.
“We saw a big market gap,” said team member Michael Brown.
That’s part of what makes the Capstone Design Expo a singular event: Some of the students carry their work beyond the semester, applying for patents and sculpting ideas into realities.
“We filed a provisional patent this morning,” said Jackie Borinski, part of the winning OculoSeal team. “Two of us are graduating and accepted offers at companies, but we hope to continue working on the OculoSTAPLE.”
Another health-centric concept came from an interdisciplinary team, made up of two BME majors and an ECE major. They proposed using Google Glass in emergency medicine, which could help emergency medical technicians and doctors communicate more effectively.
Watching a fellow group member don Google Glass to demonstrate the idea’s potential, BME major Marnie Williams said that “seeing it actually come to life has been amazing.”
Ryan Helm, who worked with a group of BME majors on an at-home cervical cancer detection kit, expressed a similar sentiment.
“It’s great to actually be able to share how it works,” he said.
Real-life applicability and results are key to many Capstone ideas – even if the work itself is all about milkshakes.
Team Chick-fil-A, an ISyE group sponsored by its namesake company, developed a tool to more effectively forecast demand for seasonal peach and peppermint chocolate chip milkshakes. The tool could have saved the company $280,000 last year, the group said.
Team member Jordan Avery has worked at Chick-fil-A, and he asked if there were any projects available for his team. Presenting the results Thursday night, he said he was glad for the chance to apply his skills in a corporate setting.
“It made me use what I learned in the classroom in real life,” he said. “It also clarified for me that I did choose the right major.”
Jordan Shields and Jennifer Tomasino contributed to this story.
College of Engineering professor Abdallah Ougazzaden was recently awarded the medal of the city of Metz.
The presentation of the medal was preceded by a speech that highlighted Ougazzaden’s main contributions to the city over the past 10 years. These contributions included leadership in the creation of L’Institut Lafayette in Metz and 17 years of industrial experience, which prompted city growth. Ougazzaden was also part of creating the international lab UMI GT-CNRS in Metz, which allows researchers to collaborate with the best teams in other countries.
The event in honor of Ougazzaden was attended by many of his academic and industrial partners, local authorities, Georgia Tech-Lorraine colleagues and family members.
Ougazzaden joined the School of Electrical and Computing Engineering faculty in 2005 and was appointed director of Georgia Tech-Lorraine in 2010.
College of Engineering alumnus Billy Lawder recently led the charge for Anheuser-Busch to replace a diesel tractor fleet in Houston with compressed natural gas powered tractors.
The fleet is expected to reduce 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, and the lighter engines are expected to emit 23 percent less greenhouse gases compared with diesel. Lawder’s team worked to lessen environmental impact while increasing cost savings.
Lawder graduated from Georgia Tech in 2002 with a B.S. in industrial engineering. He is Anheuser-Busch's director of transportation engineering.
The decision to convert the Houston fleet was made because of its central location to Anheuser-Busch’s facilities and distributors as well as its proximity to fueling stations, according to James Sembrot, the company's senior director for transportation.
Anheuser-Busch collaborated with Ryder System, Inc. to make the switch, and Dennis Cooke, president for global fleet management solutions for Ryder, said, “We commend the Anheuser-Busch team for their leadership and decision to convert their entire Houston brewery fleet to cleaner, more efficient natural gas.”
Lawder’s team has jump-started Anheuser-Busch’s plan to reduce carbon emissions in its logistics operations from network planning, transportation, and warehousing by 15 percent by the end of 2017.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — If you’ve vacationed at a Disney park over the past two decades, you’ve probably already seen Trevor Larsen’s work.
Remember when your kids talked you into riding Space Mountain? Larsen developed parts for your car. That time you screamed your way through the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror? Larsen was one of its designers.
Now he’s senior vice president for facilities and operations services at Walt Disney World Resort, meaning he influences engineering all over the Orlando property. His past work at Disney has led him to glamorous cities, like Paris and Hong Kong, in the name of one Mickey Mouse.
But it all began, as many careers do, on North Avenue.
Trevor Larsen — engineer, executive, Disney cast member — is a two-time College of Engineering alumnus. He earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech, the only university he ever applied to.
“I was convinced that Georgia Tech was the very best engineering college for me,” he says, “and that's where I wanted to study.”
Since finishing his education, he’s spent his entire career at Disney, where he climbed from “Imagineer,” in company parlance, to the leadership role he holds now. Creations and designs from his earliest days at Disney are still in use today.
If you think Larsen is living an engineer’s dream, well, you’re exactly right.
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To Space Mountain and Beyond
Tucked in a quiet corner of Walt Disney World, there’s a warehouse whose bland exterior belies the treasures within.
This is Central Shops, Disney World’s main manufacturing and maintenance site. Explore its departments and you’ll find everything from ride vehicle construction to figure painting and sculpting. It’s a Disneyphile’s dream, and it’s where Larsen came up as an engineer in the early ‘90s.
In his current job, he has responsibility for this factory as well as others scattered across Disney World’s property. But in his earliest days with the company, Larsen was working here himself as a ride engineer, providing ride support for the manufacturing and maintenance teams.
“As I walk through the shops, it’s like a little trip down memory lane,” Larsen says now.
In one section of the warehouse are a few pieces from Space Mountain. There’s a carbon fiber tub, which serves as the bottom to one of the ride’s cars, as well as a tow bar that Larsen himself designed during those first days at the company. Space Mountain has seen a lot of changes since then – including a cosmetic revamp in 2009 – but that tow bar is still in use on the attraction today.
Which doesn’t mean Disney engineers rest on their laurels. Like all engineers, they seek ways to improve their work and boost efficiency. Larsen’s resume also includes work on Spaceship Earth (the attraction housed in Epcot’s famous silver sphere), where he helped design better wheels for the ride’s vehicles.
The Space Mountain posting, though, was formative for Larsen’s career. He was assigned to its cycle program, an important part of any Disney attraction but especially high-intensity ones. It works like this: After a car has been through a certain number of “cycles,” its nuts and bolts are removed and replaced, and the vehicle undergoes testing to ensure it’s safe and functioning properly.
This is no small feat. Larsen points out that in a decade of use, a regular automobile door may go through 25,000 “cycles,” measured in openings and closings. A door on a Twilight Zone Tower of Terror car, meanwhile, will see more cycles than that in less than two weeks.
Stakes are high for Disney engineers, and in his earliest years, Larsen says, he was grateful to work with and learn from the more seasoned engineers around him. He was also glad for a job that melded both the theoretical and hands-on sides of engineering.
Larsen has spent his entire working life at Disney now, but his enthusiasm for Disney and engineering itself remains undimmed. He speaks of the company’s namesake, Walt Disney himself, like an old friend, and frequently mentions Disney’s philosophies to illustrate his own relationship to his work.
“Walt Disney used engineering and technology as a core medium to his storytelling,” Larsen says. “Even the name Imagineering embodies the essence of how engineering fits into Disney's culture.”
When his elementary school classmates fantasized about becoming police officers and firefighters, Trevor Larsen was already telling teachers he hoped to be an engineer.
His roots in the field run deep: His grandfather was a tool-and-die designer, his uncle is a millwright and machinist, and his father is a mechanical engineer.
“I grew up in a household where my curiosity and creativity were encouraged,” he says.
Disney figured into his childhood, too. His first exposure to it was through a TV show, “The Wonderful World of Disney.”
“What captivated me then, and what continues as one of our core elements today, was Walt Disney's ability to tell stories,” Larsen says. His first time in one of Disney's parks was as a youngster celebrating his father's graduation with a mechanical engineering degree.
At Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, Larsen focused on work but found time for extracurricular activities. He was a member of the Barbell Club and a founding member of Georgia Tech’s rowing club. When he began considering graduate school, the College of Engineering quickly became an enticing option.
Offering generous scholarships, Georgia Tech’s mechanical engineering program allowed him to take upper-level classes that counted toward both Larsen’s degrees.
“Having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech,” he says, “made me extremely competitive when it came time to interview for fulltime positions.”
His path to Disney wasn’t particularly unusual or glamorous. The company attended a Georgia Tech career fair, and Larsen stopped by. He spoke with Disney’s director of engineering, which led to a subsequent interview and then a job offer – a full quarter before Larsen’s graduation.
“These types of early job offers are quite common at Georgia Tech,” he says, “because companies realize how demanding the program is.”
These days, his life looks very different from when he entered the workforce. Larsen has had a part in some of Disney’s marquee attractions: He was a designer for Test Track Presented by Chevrolet at Epcot, and he served on the opening team for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
But some things have stayed the same. He believes in staying in touch with the “guest experience” and so he takes strolls through Disney parks and resorts to see things from a visitor’s point of view.
“Seeing things first hand, in the field, is very important in our business and to every engineer,” he says.
Nothing but Blue Skies
Every attraction at Disney begins with a story.
The first step in developing a new ride is called the blue sky phase. At this stage, only the story is real, and it will create the foundation for everything that comes after.
Larsen stresses the value of “show” at Disney parks and the idea that an attraction is more than mechanics. It’s a well-planned, meticulously detailed piece of entertainment – a show infused with magic.
At Central Shops, Larsen’s old stomping grounds, the commitment to show is visible in every department. Scattered across the warehouse are bits and pieces of a new roller coaster. Bound for the Magic Kingdom, these pieces will eventually become part of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (which opened in May).
What Larsen talks up aren’t the workings of the ride itself, but character details and artistic touches. For example, the ride’s vehicles – its “mine trains” – were crafted to appear authentically wooden.
In another part of the warehouse, an artist is hand-painting the bottom half of a small, stout figure that will be one of the ride’s namesake dwarfs. Larsen asks the artist which character he’s working on.
It’s Happy, of course.
Disney, Larsen says, is “a company you can really have a career with.” Through the twists and turns of his own career there, he’s found guidance in Disney principles.
At Test Track, the Epcot attraction Larsen helped design, riders are rocketed through a course at up to 65 miles an hour. It’s one of the most popular rides at Epcot, and Larsen is proud of the rigorous safety checks it undergoes.
As Disney’s former vice president for worldwide safety, he’s an expert on them. The Test Track garage, its dedicated maintenance facility at Epcot, is open 24 hours a day. Larsen references the philosophies of Walt Disney again when he talks about it, explaining that while show was one of Disney’s core values, his No. 1 priority was always safety.
“Everything we design, build, operate, and maintain,” Larsen says, “is done with a focus on excellence.”
This is one of the fundamental challenges of Disney: how to fuse the creative vision its reputation is built on with the needs of millions of visitors and a constant vigilance for safety.
It’s a challenge best suited, of course, for an engineer.
Ed. note: This story appears in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of Georgia Tech Engineers, the magazine from the College of Engineering. To request a copy, please email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story by Kathleen Moore Photographs by Gary Meek and Kathleen Moore
Wassim Haddad will be the first to tell you that he’s no businessman. The author of numerous books and papers on subjects ranging from mathematics and philosophy to dynamical systems and thermodynamics, he is a scholar first and foremost.
But when his interest in dynamical system modeling and control led him repeatedly into the realm of pharmacology and neuroscience, the aerospace engineering professor could not ignore the obvious. That’s how AreteX Engineering was born.
Launched in 2012, the NYC-based company is developing a technology that could eliminate over- and under-sedation, a problem that currently affects thousands of hospital and nursing facility patients each year. Already studied in surgical settings, the AreteX technology seeks to improve anesthesia delivery by drawing upon an expanded database of behavioral and physiological indices to guide dosage levels.
The research – and the philosophy – behind it have been building critical mass in Haddad’s mind for more than a decade. He is excited that they are both, now, coming together.
“I have always maintained that there are many connections between thermodynamics – the science of large-scale dynamical systems with interconnected components or parts that exchange energy and matter among subsystems – and neuroscience,” he says.
“I realized that with a suitable reinterpretation of system variables in one discipline, we can transition and develop new theories in another to solve pressing problems,” he continues.
“And that’s what we are doing with AreteX. We are using machine learning, Bayesian networks, and dynamical system modeling to assess sedation and pain levels as well understand patient outcomes in the ICU.”
In addition to receiving startup grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command, AreteX is currently in talks with the NYU Langone Medical Center to begin clinical trials on a new suite of technology and protocols that will use physiological and behavioral data to more precisely calibrate patient drug dosages in the ICU. With a more robust database, the system better addresses sedation and pain management. The company started a pilot study at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) earlier this year.
Another grant, currently in the works, could bring AreteX’s prototype to market within a year.
Haddad is joined in this venture by his longtime research partner Dr. James Bailey, an NGMC anesthesiologist, and Dr. Behnood Gholami, a former AE doctoral student of Haddad’s who went on to do post-doctoral research at Harvard Medical School.
“We are introducing a series of multi-modal sensors to this process so that clinicians will be able to base patient care on behavioral and physiological measurements,” said Bailey. “If we can remove the subjectivity, we will be able to better use the knowledge and judgment of our medical staffs.”
The problem with general anesthesia
As many as 2 percent of all surgical patients have been found to be insufficiently anesthetized, a condition that permits them to be fully aware during an operation but unable to inform their surgeon because they are paralyzed.
“That may not sound like a high percentage but, when you consider that there over 20 million surgical procedures conducted in the United States each year, the numbers are compelling,” said Haddad. “It is a nightmare when things go wrong.”
The problem is less traumatic but more pronounced in the nation’s ICUs, where as many as 70 percent of the patients who receive sedation are either under or over-sedated, Haddad noted.
The results of under-sedation – patient trauma, excessive movement, unnecessary pain, the accidental removal of life-support equipment – can delay patient diagnosis, prolong hospital stays, and require additional interventions. Haddad estimates that this costs the U.S. healthcare system upwards of $400 million annually.
Over-sedated patients are spared from excessive pain, trauma or muscle movement but may be harder to wean from mechanical ventilators and more likely to remain hospitalized longer. Haddad estimates that more than $4 billion could be saved annually if the average use of mechanical ventilators in ICUs was reduced by just one day.
“The problem — in the ICU and in the operating room — is that there’s no consensus on the definition of adequate sedation,” says Bailey (above).
“If there is a question as to whether a patient needs additional sedation, the common practice is to give more, to be on the safe side. But there is no clinical evidence that this is needed, and the process itself puts an undue burden on medical staff, particularly ICU nurses, who have to do everything from bathing and feeding patients to drug titration.”
Lessons learned from airplanes and algorithms
If AreteX Engineering has its way, this imprecision will soon be a thing of the past.
“What we are doing for anesthesia is, essentially, what the auto-pilot did for airplanes,” says Haddad.
“You would not want an airline pilot to spend all of his time manning the controls of an airplane. And you do not want an anesthesiologist to spend all of his time interpreting numerous sensors and manually titrating patient anesthetic drug doses. He should be alert and able to intervene in emergencies, not taxed by routine data interpretation. Manual control can be very tedious, imprecise, time consuming, and sometimes of poor quality.”
Into this scenario, Haddad and AreteX are introducing a closed-loop controller for intraoperative anesthesia and a clinical decision support system (CDSS) to better manage sedation and pain.
The CDSS simultaneously collects a large array of behavioral and physiological data on each patient, which it feeds into a machine learning algorithm — an algorithm that determines the probability of patient pain and sedation levels.
Ultimately, in a closed-loop system, this data will be fed into an actuator (for example, an infusion pump) that will automatically administer the right levels of medicine directly to the patient. Right now, the machine’s recommendations are provided to the clinician for improving sedation management manually.
“Closed-loop control is superior to open-loop [manual] control because it allows you to maintain sedation at targeted levels throughout, rather than having to constantly correct drug dosage as the patient metabolizes the drugs,” says Bailey, who has overseen more than 50 clinical trials of a similar system in the operating rooms at Emory University Hospital and the NGMC.
“My gut impression is that the closed-loop controller does as well as I do – maybe even a little better. Overall, it has tended to require a little less anesthesia. We know when to administer it and how much is needed. And we had no instances of patients waking up or having any adverse effects.”
Bailey’s faith in this system is not based solely on personal experience or gut impressions, however. Data is king. And the AreteX CDSS system collects a lot of it. Among the primary sensors for assessing pain and sedation levels:
• Electrocardiograph to detect pulse and heart rate variability;
• Electroencephalograph to determine brain activity, particularly parameters that indicate awareness; and
• Digital imaging that captures behavioral data, such as patient movement, which indicate pain or awareness.
“Any one of these indicators, alone, can lead to a misleading assertion, but, when basing our assessment on multi-modal sensor measurements, that minimizes the chance of assessment error,” says Gholami. “We have developed performance measures [for all of these indicators] that support more accurate interpretation and decision support for sedation management.”
That said, there is no one-size-fits all interpretation when it comes to patient care. The AreteX CDSS will take this into account.
“The closed-loop controller that we developed for intraoperative anesthesia is adaptive, which means the patient parameters can change every time you hook it up to a different patient,” said Haddad.
The parameters of a 98-pound female runner will be very different from those of an overweight diabetic male patient. The control system accounts for that. It senses a different level of brain activity and takes information from all sensors to determine the amount of drug needed.
Right now, Haddad, Bailey and Gholami are targeting the CDSS for deployment in ICUs, where anesthesia is routinely used to manage millions of patients who are hooked up to ventilators and other rehabilitative equipment. But they have also set their sights on the nation’s operating rooms, where anesthesiologists regularly oversee operations that can last eight to12 hours or more.
“And sometimes, they are coming into those surgeries after having just completed another one,” Haddad says. “Imagine how much this control technology could improve the accuracy and quality of anesthesia administration which forms the foundation of almost all surgeries.”
Ed. note: This story appears in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of Georgia Tech Engineers, the magazine from the College of Engineering. To request a copy, please email the editor at email@example.com
A team of 35 Georgia Tech engineering students will compete against teams from 15 other universities to redesign the Chevrolet Camaro into a hybrid-electric car.
The four-year Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition — or EcoCAR 3 — will begin in the fall semester, when the students will begin developing their design concept to convert the Camaro’s powertrain to incorporate alternative fuels. In fall 2015, they will receive a new Camaro, and they’ll work on the conversion through 2018.
The team's three advisors are Professor Tom Fuller of ChBE, Associate Professor Michael Leamy of ME, and Professor David Taylor of ECE. The competition is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors Co. A story about the competition was published by AZoCleantech.com.
“It is a great opportunity to develop our own vehicle based on our own innovation,” said Justin Wilbanks, a graduate research assistant in ME.
The house is packed. The cameras are rolling. Your name is called, cheers erupt, applause thunders forth from the audience. Out you go, out into the hot lights of the stage and set. You’re on.
The perfectly rehearsed words tumble out in an adrenaline-fueled pitch. With practiced fingers, you manipulate and demonstrate your invention – a device, a contraption, a computer animation. The judges ask why this and when did you that. You answer as precisely and concisely as you can.
Then it’s over. Your seven minutes of TV fame have come and gone.
This is what it’s like for an undergraduate student participating as a finalist in Georgia Tech’s InVenture Prize competition. Having completed its fifth year in spring, the live television event on Georgia Public Broadcasting showcases the best student inventions, most of which are the fruits of future engineers.
But what happens after the lights go down is a much less universal experience. In the weeks and months and years that follow, hopes for market success rise or fall. Students graduate, get jobs, enroll in graduate school, move on. Some pursue commercialization of their InVenture work; others park their dreams or create new ones.
Georgia Tech Engineers caught up with five finalists from past InVenture Prize competitions to ask what happened next. Their stories illustrate the challenges that confront entrepreneurs everywhere – and prove that a College of Engineering education really does venture beyond the classroom.
A Safer Way to Save a Life - Magnetic Assisted Intubation Device (MAID)
If you ever need a breathing tube inserted into your lungs, you’ll want that procedure to go smoothly. And one out of every 10 times, it doesn’t.
Chipped teeth, damaged vocal chords, cuts to the throat — all are the unfortunate results of intubations gone awry. That’s mostly because intubation requires the person performing the procedure to see the trachea and thread a breathing tube through vocal chords, avoiding the esophagus. When that view is obstructed or misinterpreted, injuries or even death can occur.
A student team competing in the 2011 InVenture competition came up with a way to minimize such injuries during intubation. Their product, called MAID, won second place, and it went on to capture top honors in Georgia Tech’s Business Plan Competition as well as a $50,000 grant from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). Today, it remains a viable candidate for commercialization.
Intubations are currently performed using a laryngoscope, a device that pries open the passage to the trachea so a breathing tube can be inserted. MAID — which stands for magnetically assisted intubation device — guides the tube in place using magnetic force. A removable, magnet-tipped stylet is placed within a breathing tube, and a strong magnet is placed outside the body, by the Adam’s apple. The pull from the magnet steers the tube into proper position.
“This device has the potential to make quite an impact,” says Shawna Hagen (BME ’12), one of the four students behind MAID. “We get very positive feedback from people in several areas of medicine. Paramedics find it intriguing. So do neonatal respiratory nurses, because intubating an infant can be especially difficult.”
The challenge, says fellow team member Alex Cooper (BME ’12), is getting the market to embrace a new approach to a familiar procedure.
“Everyone who does intubation thinks they’re better than the failure rate,” Cooper says. “It’s amazing how many people have told us that it’ll be great for people who are bad at intubation, but that they’d never mess up the procedure.”
Overcoming such a challenge, he says, will require a business partner with experience in marketing and commercialization. Securing that help as well as venture capital now falls primarily to Hagen, who is employed with GTRI. Cooper and their other teammates, Jacob Thompson and Elizabeth Flanagan, are employed full-time elsewhere.
“We’re currently working with Georgia Tech’s Manufacturing Institute to create prototypes of MAID to be used in efficacy testing,” she says. Further proof of MAID’s value may just get medical practitioners to take a second look.
Watering the World - Tubing Operations for Humanitarian Logistics (TOHL)
Laying a one-kilometer water line across hilly terrain usually takes days. But TOHL can do it in less than 10 minutes.
The student-founded company, a 2012 InVenture finalist, field-tested its water-delivery technology in July of that year. TOHL attached a spool of its high-density polyethylene tubing to a helicopter, placing one end of the tube into a tributary of the Maipo River in Chile. The spool was then flown over the hills, feeding out tube along the way, with the other end dropped in a nearby community.
When water came flowing through, the trial run proved TOHL’s concept: “Mobile infrastructure” for water delivery could be installed quickly after a natural disaster.
The students behind TOHL were inspired to find a new solution for clean water after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. When they presented on the InVenture program, they believed emergency installations would be the heart of the business. Today, that focus has expanded to include installing permanent infrastructure.
“There are still almost a billion people who lack reliable access to water,” says CEO Benjamin Cohen (CE ’11). “They are in a permanent state of emergency. Our goal is to connect those people [to water resources].”
Since InVenture, TOHL has raised more than $500,000 in grants, awards and donations, including $80,000 awarded to Cohen, who was named a 2013 Echoing Green Fellow, and $50,000 from winning the Start Something That Matters contest sponsored by TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycoskie. The media has taken notice, too, with coverage from the BBC, Forbes and Inc. magazines, and the Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet,” among others.
Cohen and Apoorv Sinha, members of the original InVenture team, remain involved in day-to-day operations. Teammates Melissa McCoy and Travis Horsley continue to work in support roles. They have been joined by fellow College of Engineering alumnus Ibrahim Sufi.
The company’s biggest technical challenge now is to design a spool that can dispense larger tubes that don’t twist as the line feeds out from the helicopter. Figuring out the right spool width, tube diameter and altitude for delivery is “a big optimization puzzle,” says Cohen.
TOHL has operations in Chile, Kenya and Haiti. Cohen predicts that TOHL’s new emphasis on long-term installations will secure multimillion-dollar annual revenues within three years.
Clearer Access to the Inner Eye - AutoRhexis
The number of American who undergo cataract surgery each year now equals the entire population of Philadelphia. And as the nation’s baby boomers age, the procedure is being performed more and more.
While common, cataract surgery presents a challenging step: creating a hole in the lens capsule, a layer of tissue that protects the lens of the eye. It’s like cutting cellophane with a knife. The surgeon makes an incision, then uses tweezers to tear a roughly circular opening to access the lens.
One in five surgical residents botches this part of the procedure, according to estimates. But if engineering alumni Chris Giardina (BME ’11) and Shane Saunders (ME ’10) are successful, those mistakes will rarely happen again.
Giardina and Saunders were members of a six-student team that presented a surgical tool for the lens capsule procedure at the 2011 InVenture Prize competition. Their instrument, called AutoRhexis, captured the imagination of the television audience and was given the People’s Choice Award that year, bringing a cash prize and help with filing a patent.
AutoRhexis is engineered to make a perfectly round incision in the lens capsule with a simple press of the thumb. The concept is certainly novel, but getting it to market reveals just how complicated entrepreneurship can be.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into the blade of the device,” says Giardina. “At the competition, we had a stainless steel blade, which was a good start but didn’t perform as well as needed for a true clinical trial. Since then, we’ve explored other materials, such as flexible alloys and laser-etched diamonds. But the balance between material cost and cutting efficacy is a constant struggle.”
A marketable instrument, he says, must have a blade 1 millimeter in height, fashioned out of material that cuts effectively. It must also be affordable if the device is to be disposable or be able to withstand sterilization if reused.
Addressing the engineering challenges has fallen to Giardina and Saunders, who now run Rhexis Surgical Instruments in their spare time. (Their four InVenture teammates hold a small stake in the company, too.) Another obstacle involves insurance coverage – currently, the surgical step involving the cutting of the lens capsule does not have its own reimbursement code. Thus, keeping the device affordable is crucial.
Still, Giardina remains optimistic about the endeavor.
“Most of these procedures are performed in private practice, so even if there’s a small cost that insurance doesn’t cover, practices may choose to use AutoRhexis to advertise better patient outcomes,” he says.
The business side of the company is in order, including the non-provisional patent filing. What’s needed most is a $50,000 investment, which Giardina says would cover the completion of a final prototype and new pre-clinical testing with animal models.
A Shirt That’s Worth the Weight – TITIN
The hallmark of a good exercise shirt is typically its light weight. But Patrick Whaley (ME ’10) turned that notion upside down when he invented a shirt weighing eight pounds.
Marketed under the brand name TITIN, the shirt is designed to add an extra element of struggle to workouts. It’s actually two shirts — one worn underneath, with a pocketed system holding hydro-gel weights; the other worn outside to compress the weights and keep them evenly distributed for the wearer.
Since winning the 2010 InVenture Prize competition, Whaley has been unstoppable in taking his product to the masses.
“I’m expecting to break $7 million in web sales alone in 2014,” he says in a phone interview while waiting to board a flight to Germany, where he would introduce TITIN at a retail exposition. “I’ve got distribution in 13 countries already, and I’m traveling to add others. We’re now selling more shirts in one day than we did in all of October 2013.”
Whaley first had the idea for the shirt as a teenager. He remembers being “a skinny kid who carried extra stuff in my book bag” to gain strength. Thinking there had to be a better way to wear that weight, he began sketching superhero-like shirts.
Georgia Tech gave Whaley the foundation to build upon the idea, and winning InVenture proved to be a defining moment.
“It was really the point of validation,” he says. “After the competition, people acknowledged it wasn’t a hobby anymore. It was a little hard for my dad to let me continue on, because he didn’t want me to lose the opportunity of a college education.”
So Whaley did the opposite: He leveraged his education, managing schoolwork and entrepreneurship with the discipline needed to excel.
“I would do homework sometimes until the middle of the night, then fall on top of the covers, then wake up at 6:30,” he recalls. “It was all business between 6:30 and 8 — if I didn’t do it then, it didn’t get done that day.” Lunches were spent alone, working on the business; a spring break was devoted to vendor meetings. Friends stopped texting Whaley to see if he wanted to hang out.
But the persistence paid off. Whaley’s product won “Most Fundable” in the 2011 Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition and went on to earn prize money in several other competitions. He’s now training his sights on extending the product line, as well as expanding into new outlets and markets.
Anemia Testing Comes Home - AnemoCheck
Millions of people in the U.S. have anemia — or have to be regularly checked for it by a doctor.
The doctor visits are crucial, as severe anemia can lead to organ damage and even heart failure. But they’re also time-consuming and expensive. In her senior year in the College of Engineering, Erika Tyburski (BME ’12) and her senior design team dreamed up a better method of detection: a disposable test people could use at home to check their hemoglobin levels.
Functioning much like the glucose monitoring tests used by diabetics, AnemoCheck requires a mere drop of blood — or less. It’s faster and easier to understand than the quick-turnaround home tests currently on the market.
“The existing rapid diagnostic tests — they call them rapid, but they take 20 to 30 minutes — need three or four drops of blood,” Tyburski says. “They can also be inaccurate because of user error and user interpretation error.”
By contrast, AnemoCheck uses an oxidation-reduction (redox) reaction that takes about a minute to process. Based on hemoglobin levels in the blood, the final result exhibits a color, ranging from blue to red, indicating the presence or absence of anemia.
Since taking second place in the 2013 InVenture Prize competition, AnemoCheck has received $55,000 in additional funding from sources including the Georgia Research Alliance, the Georgia Center for Innovation and Manufacturing and the 2013 Ideas to SERVE competition at Tech, which AnemoCheck won. Tyburski also received a grant from the Global Center for Medical Innovation to develop a prototype device. The initial design has completed preclinical testing involving more than 200 patients, proving its stability and usability and establishing a shelf life.
Now, Tyburski is working on making the color coding more distinct so the test results will be even easier to read. Someday, she hopes to develop an iPhone app to provide foolproof readings. Her efforts are supported by Dr. Wilbur Lam, of the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Dr. Siobhan O’Connor of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who both were supervisors on the original project.
The ultimate aim is to form a corporation and begin applying for Food and Drug Administration approval. Beta testing in users’ homes would follow. If all goes according to plan, Tyburski says, AnemoCheck will be on pharmacy shelves in 2016.