Little did they know this would be the same idea that would take home first place at the 2014-2015 Innovation Trophy Competition, a phased competition designed to allow students to pursue an original idea that has significant mechanical engineering content and potential for commercialization, and that addresses a societal need. The winning team receives a cash award, with the ultimate goal to form a startup company or commercialize the idea through licensing or sale to another company. The prize also includes $2,000 in MechSE machine shop work and rapid prototyping costs through the beginning of next year.
The only major requirement for the semester-long project was that it should have mechanical and electrical elements. Kevin Kienitz, now a MechSE alumnus, said he came across an idea that fit the parameters as he was cooking dinner.
“I was thinking of a way that I could wash my hands and not worry about touching the faucet… where there could be temperature control as well as water control,” Kienitz said.
His teammates agreed to develop the idea. Throughout the semester, Danielle Courtois, Timothy Jones, and Kienitz brainstormed ways to control a faucet’s temperature and pressure using a motion sensor. Initially, the group expected their proposal to result in a short-term project.
“As it turned out, it ended up being a little more complicated than we thought,” Kienitz said.
They continued to work on the project well into the next semester, further defining different pressure and temperature settings.
The touchless faucet prototype the team prepared for the Innovation Trophy Competition features four or five settings and pressure flow rates. Team members said they think that a working prototype and knowledge of a target market gave their presentation an edge over the competition.
“I definitely think one of the aspects that helped is that our product provides some sort of good or service to people, something that can actually help improve people’s lives,” Kienitz said.
Moving forward, the team is interested in patenting, marketing, and implementing their product in kitchens.
“Right now it’s for residential kitchens,” said Jones, who focused on developing the prototype’s sensor system. “But industrial kitchens, hospitals, and other places where sanitation is premium are also an option.”