Prototyping Fund’s Fall Project Showcase Offers Glimpse at Ingenious Inventions

A tabletop-sized Ferris wheel carrying lush-looking plants; an anatomically perfect purple replica of a human skull; and a futuristic coaster that reminds its user to drink a glass of water. Each of these items was exhibited at the NYU Prototyping Fund’s Fall 2014 Project Showcase.

The NYU Prototyping Fund is a joint effort of the Greenhouse, a space that stimulates interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation, located at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, and the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, which leads a university-wide initiative to accelerate the launch of successful startups by members of the NYU community. Selected teams received $500 to help build a hardware or software prototype, and on December 4, the public was invited to see the results.

Anmar El-Khalil (MBA ’16, Stern), one of the inventors of the Ferris wheel plant growing device, dubbed HydrOne, explained that its small size makes it perfect for those living in cramped spaces (like NYU dorm rooms), while the automated light and watering capabilities make it possible for those without green thumbs to grow food. “It’s refillable, so you would buy the capsules containing whatever plants you wanted, whenever you wanted,” he said. “Maybe one day we’ll be considered the Keurig of hydroponics.”

Other inventions tackled health-related problems, like InVisix, a wearable Electronic Medical Record (EMR) interface that would allow medical personnel to access digital health records using only voice commands, or the MRI-compatible Spirometer, which would synchronize a patient’s breathing data with magnetic resonance imaging so that technicians could reconstruct changes in the heart and chest as respiration occurs.

As for the skull, cleverly called New Yorrick – a nod to both the city and name of the dead court jester whose skull is exhumed by the gravedigger in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Marcus Cimino (MD/MBA ’16, SOM/Stern), one of the medical students who created the skull using a 3D printer, explained that “real skeletons were hard to come by, expensive, and fragile, while the plastic models on the market often lacked the realism and detail needed for serious study. 3D printing the bones after scanning in an actual specimen would help bridge that gap,” he said. (As for that vibrant purple, he crafted it in honor of NYU.)

The showcase also featured leggings with embedded sensors that allow stroke survivors and patients with multiple sclerosis to better walk (created by a team that included a trio of School of Engineering undergrads), games and sensors designed to make physical therapy fun, and innovative platforms for encouraging volunteerism, monitoring energy usage, and tracking disease outbreaks.

In that final category, SMSanté, a tool that would allow users to receive text alerts about nearby areas to avoid because of Ebola (or other communicable diseases), was a last-minute recipient of a prototyping grant. Its creators, Arnav Sood (BA ’18, CAS) and Pamela Wu ’17, SOM), met at NYU’s recent Hack Ebola event and come up with the idea. In addition to the Greenhouse Prototyping mini-grant, SMSanté was deemed one of the 28 winning ideas in the OpenIDEO Fighting Ebola Challenge.

Many of the students who showcased at the event were poised to go on to other NYU contests, including the $200K Entrepreneurs Challenge and Inno/Vention.

Professor Anne-Laure Fayard reflected on the event. “Lindsey Marshall Gray, who directs the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, and I both thought that this third Prototyping Fund Showcase was a great success because of the quality of the prototypes, the breadth of ideas, and the variety of needs and problems addressed by students,” she said. “It was a great illustration of the power of prototyping as the concrete expression of an idea that tests or explores assumptions,” she said. “It was clear talking with students that they learned how one can prototype to think and how iteration is key in developing innovative ideas.”