Tech Launch Arizona Funds Unique Student Inventions

What if your smartphone could track literal bumps in the road to aid with highway maintenance? Or, what if you could help your dog shed a few pounds without putting them on a diet? These are just a couple of the questions being tackled by winners of Tech Launch Arizona’s first Student Innovation challenge.

Tech Launch Arizona, the office that commercializes University of Arizona inventions for social and economic impact, has awarded funding to five student teams to develop inventions with the goal of bringing them to the public as products to benefit society.

TLA created the Student Innovation Challenge to engage students in the innovation and commercialization process.

“It is one of our goals to weave entrepreneurship into many aspects of the student experience,” said Doug Hockstad, assistant vice president of TLA. “Through philanthropic support, we were able to launch this new program and provide experience in pitching ideas, building products and chasing dreams.”

Open to both undergraduate and graduate students, the Student Innovation Challenge is modeled after TLA’s Asset Development Program, which provides funds to UArizona employees to develop early-stage inventions and prepare them for commercialization. Asset Development projects often involve activities like creating a prototype, confirming functionality and exploring scalability.

Through the Student Innovation Challenge, student inventors go through a similar process – filling out invention disclosures and working with TLA on intellectual property protection and the details that go into asset development and commercialization planning.

“We considered the program we’ve got in place for our employees, and we thought it would be great to extend it to students,” said Rakhi Gibbons, director of licensing and intellectual property for TLA. “We are providing them opportunities to not only apply their innovative thinking to solve real-world problems but provide funding to see those visions become reality.”

The first challenge drew 18 proposals. A panel of judges chose five projects to fund: a new distributed mushroom cultivation system, a mobile application for monitoring pavement conditions, an online small claims arbitration system, a weight-loss pet food and a new biodegradable toilet paper. Each awardee has been paired with a TLA licensing manager to assist with intellectual property protection and strategic planning.

TLA will launch its next Student Innovation Challenge in September.

Justin Chung
Justin ChungCourtesy of Justin Chung

A Recipe for Fresher Mushrooms

Justin Chung, the inventor of the hub-and-spoke mushroom cultivation project, is a graduate student in biosystems engineering, co-housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. He said he was elated upon learning that his project received funding.

“I’ve always thought about solutions to real-world problems that are not traditionally taught inside the classroom,” he said. “This TLA challenge was the perfect opportunity to work on a creative project based around my passion: helping both humans and Earth become healthier.”

With his innovation, Chung hopes to give Tucsonans “unprecedented access to powerfully fresh mushrooms with unique flavors and medicinal benefits, and make sure every market and restaurant that wants to grow fresh mushrooms on site will have the ability to do so.”

While his project focuses on mushroom cultivation, Chung’s grand vision is to use a technology-based approach to address pressing global issues like urban resiliency, population growth and sustainable food production.

Taking Small Claims Online

Benjamin Daly, a student in the James E. Rogers College of Law, says he was motivated to create an online small claims arbitration system after a problem he experienced personally.

“My landlord was violating the terms of our lease agreement, and when I moved out, he threatened to charge me a lease termination fee,” he said.

While he considered a lawsuit, Daly recognized that it did not make economic sense to file a claim in court.

“I realized that for individuals with small claims under $2,500, there is no venue to have their issue resolved,” he said. “So, I was motivated to develop a way for people to resolve small claims at a low cost and in a simple manner.”

He said the TLA funding opened a new opportunity for him.

“I felt great knowing that my concept piqued the judges’ interest, and it encouraged me to dive into making my vision a reality.”

A Doggy Diet Alternative

Honors College student Analisa Del Grosso submitted a project proposal to develop a new form of pet food to help prevent pet obesity. The idea grew from her honors thesis work, but she’s taking it to the next level to improve the lives of pets and their owners.

“After determining how I planned on testing pet obesity and owners’ guilt when placing their dog on a diet, my thesis advisor, Dr. Renquist, informed me of the Student Innovation Challenge and suggested that I should apply to get funding for my project,” she said.

Del Grosso’s adviser, Benjamin Renquist, is an associate professor of animal and comparative biomedical sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a member of UArizona’s BIO5 Institute. He has launched multiple companies based on his inventions stemming from his research.

Del Grosso said, “I hope that in the future, solutions like I’m proposing will be a common regimen used by veterinarians to induce weight loss in both dogs and cats.”

Keeping Toilets Flowing

Kunal Shamdasani
Kunal ShamdasaniCourtesy of Kunal Shamdasani

Kunal Shamdasani, an undergraduate in the Eller College of Management, got his commercialization inspiration when traveling in India.

“I first noticed the problem when in my home country an airplane had to land as all toilets were clogged, owing to the toilet paper,” he remembers.

His idea is to innovate toilet paper such that it “avoids clogging of toilets and simultaneously is safe to use.”

Shamdasani says he had the idea for a while, but when he saw a poster for the Student Innovation Challenge, he recognized the opportunity to pursue his innovation with support from TLA experts.

“The people I have interacted with have been kind in donating their time, and it feels great to have such accomplished professionals backing me in a project I deem important,” he said. “Their guidance is not only appreciated but needed to make sure the idea reaches its potential.”

Real-Time Road Health App

Jong-Hyun Jeong
Jong-Hyun JeongCourtesy of Jeong-Hyun Jeong

Roads that need maintenance are bumpy. But how do you map the problem points that need the most attention?

Jong-Hyun Jeong, a graduate student in civil engineering, thought maybe there was a way use devices already in almost every driver’s vehicle as one big detection network.

“Recent smartphones are equipped a variety of sensors and high-performance CPU/GPU that enable their use as road health monitoring sensors,” Jeong said. “But there is no method available to directly use a general driver’s smartphone, due to vehicle calibration requirements.”

Jeong proposes using smartphones and their integrated accelerometers to calculate road roughness by the International Roughness Index, providing real-time road health conditions.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Tech Launch Arizona website: https://techlaunch.arizona.edu/news/student-innovation-challenge-winning-projects-announced-projects-funded-move-toward.

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