Prototyping Fund’s Spring Showcase Fosters Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Students talking and working

The NYU Prototyping Fund is an ongoing collaboration between the School of Engineering's Greenhouse and the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. This is a great opportunity for students to receive prototype funding, but more importantly, the Showcase provides a channel for winning teams to network. Leading up to the Showcase, the Prototyping Fund and Greenhouse hold workshops in app development, user interface design, and 3-D printing, along with providing access to some key equipment and tools. Teams are responsible for acquiring and managing the resources needed to actually design and build the prototypes.

On April 30, the most recently awarded teams were able to show their prototypes to attendees as well as to each other. Twelve teams are selected each fall and spring semesters to receive an award of $500 to use for their prototype. To help encourage interdisciplinary teams to apply, multi-school collaborations are given preference in the judging process. As Anne-Laure Fayard, Associate Professor of Management at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering and one of the Showcase organizers puts it, “The main goal of the program is about testing and developing ideas. We are encouraging teams’ applications – in particular, multi-disciplinary teams. We want cross disciplinary and cross-school teams to create networks and connections.” The program’s emphasis on connecting students with diverse skillsets to team up and apply, also puts teams in a better position to accomplish the Fund’s requirements of not just designing a prototype concept, but answering realistic questions regarding what would be required to turn the prototype into a finished product.

The results are impressive, with teams designing medical hardware and software already in the process of ongoing testing. Prototypes designed for therapeutic purposes are also designed to focus on interactive intuitiveness to provide accessibility. “By taking this type of therapy and making it available at home, younger family members can interact with it as well so the family is involved the rehabilitation process,” says Vanessa Mahoney (PhD ’15 SoM) of her team’s prototype, Helping Hand, a stroke rehabilitation device with a game-like interface and compact design. This game-like design approach is evident in several of the 2015 awardee’s prototypes, ranging from an accessible board game that can teach anyone basic cyber security concepts to Diana Castro’s (MS ’15, Poly) MMIO, an interactive device that uses changing sounds based on how the user holds it as an anxiety/stress control aid.

There were also several teams with medical hardware prototypes mean to improve existing products like Cole Mahlowitz’ (BS ’15, Steinhardt) hearing aid that has a high efficiency battery life by harvesting heat dissipating from the user’s own head. Another was a six person team’s portable MRI sensor. Presented by Eugene Goncharov (BS ’15, Poly), the sensor is a full hardware and software package intended to improve the accuracy of existing MRI equipment. Another prototype designed to improve existing equipment is Wheels Up, a suite of wedges that can automatically deploy and return to a wheelchair, allowing it to navigate stairs the same way it would a ramp. Other teams presented projects helpful in improving or sidestepping challenges in our current infrastructure. These range from one team’s social network app focused on student safety to a working prototype that can use energy from sea waves to generate electricity.

Every team at the event was passionate about the challenges faced in getting their projects up and running. While the NYU Prototyping Fund awards $500 to each selected team’s prototype construction, the Fund’s focus on bringing together interdisciplinary students and giving them opportunities to network, has given them the drive to bring their work from prototype to the next stage of product development.