But as they debated their options, the group kept returning to the concept of a device that would enable people with tremor disorders to feed themselves.
My father has Parkinsons, so Ive seen the need for this device firsthand, says MBA student and computer scientist Max Morton. The problem was we had no idea how to do it. But our professors said, Dont let that discourage youa solution will evolve with time.
Eight months later, the team, now called 7-Solutions, has an invention, a business plan, and an application filed for a provisional patent.
That process of inventionthe development of a unique idea from its conception to a working realityhas become an integral part of the Rensselaer education experience.
Over the past decade, classes such as the Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory Experience, Introduction to Engineering Design, Inventors Studio, and the introduction of an academic major in Product Design and Innovation have challenged students to apply their academic experience and creativity to real-world problems.
In these courses, students are faced with open-ended problems that can lead to any number of solutions, says Gary Gabriele, Rensselaers vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. You dont come in and pick up your textbook or computer and start grinding out stuff. Its really an opportunity for students to express their creativity and develop some of the problem-solving skills that lead to more creative solutions. Its more like real life.
In the year-long Design, Manufacturing, and Marketing (DMM) class, real life arrives in the form of market testingtaking an idea into the marketplace again and again. Morton and Ansari admit the results of those visits surprised them.
When we first talked to my dad and other people with this illness, they said they didnt care what the device looked like, says Morton.
So we came up with the ugliest thing, says Ansari, It was a utensil attached to an arm that could clamp to the back of your chair. The users said it looked like a torture device.
We found out they really wanted something that would be virtually invisible, adds Morton. Thats when we started developing a cuff that would apply pressure and electric impulses to the affected muscles.
Morton says their project benefited from the teams diversity: his experience as a computer scientist, Ansaris degree in electrical engineering, Robert Veros work in physics, and Andrew Manssons experience in the material sciences.
Management professor Chris McDermott says most MBA students in the DMM class come from technical backgrounds, although the projects vary in their levels of complexity. He says the primary mission of the course is to finish with a viable prototype and a fully developed business plan.
We try to take them beyond just thinking about technical solutions to the actual creation of a successful business, says McDermott, one of four professors who team teach the course. They need to consider customer needs and wants, as opposed to just solving a problem without a link to the real marketplace.
|Rensselaer Magazine: June 2003|
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