Technology & Innovation: iProject

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Chell Roberts, the Executive Dean of ASU’s College of Innovation and Technology, explains how students are working with industry and the military on innovative projects designed to address real-world issues.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of technology and innovation looks at how ASU students are working with private industry and the military on a variety of different projects designed to address real word issues. Here to talk about the program is Chell Roberts, Executive Dean of ASU's College of Innovation and Technology.

Chell Roberts: Very good to be here.

Ted Simons: I-projects, innovation showcase. What are we talking about?

Chell Roberts: We understand the College of Technology and Innovation that many students learn best when they are able to apply their knowledge in an authentic contest. What that means is they take the lectures and they take what they read in books and they do something real. You don't just read about it, you actual go do it. You actually design the new product, new innovation.

Ted Simons: This is students teaming with industry to innovate on things that really do matter.

Chell Roberts: We have created partnerships with a variety of industries, government, agencies to take that authentic environment and to bring students and partner to solve their problems, to design new things for them, to create new enterprises.

Ted Simons: Who decides on the students, who decides on the partners?

Chell Roberts: Well, I do a lot of that work, but there are many of us that work on finding new partners to work with us, many of them coming to us now. We have done this the past five years. We started very small and are getting very, very large with lots of industry and partners coming to us.

Ted Simons: These sound fascinating, especially the one working with the Air Force on something called the Spiderman Project.

Chell Roberts: Spiderman is a great project. Imagine things Spiderman can do. Spiderman can climb walls. What the Air Force came to us and said is we would like a student team to work on climbing walls while our soldiers have backpacks on them some of the our students created a mechanism for someone to go up a ten-story skyscraper, right on the side, kind of a suction device so they can walk up the side of a building.

Ted Simons: Like little geckos?

Chell Roberts: Like geckos. Yes and it works.

Ted Simons: With 100 pound backpacks?

Chell Roberts: Makes me scared to see students climbing the sides of walls, but yes, they do it.

Ted Simons: They do okay. This is viable. This is something that the Air Force I guess, the military, can use.

Chell Roberts: They can. So often what the companies and Air Force do they have us do a first prototype. We're creating the new idea and how it's going to work and then they take it to the next generation.

Ted Simons: Honeywell working with Honeywell on a fully automated touch screen panel.

Chell Roberts: Very interesting. So Honeywell wants to test displays. They are looking at new cockpit displays. You think about testing those displays someone may have to touch a display, oh, 10,000 times to know how that works. We don't want to hire a student or an employee to touch 10,000 times a screen, so we created a machine that will do that testing, a robotic device that tests the screen by touching with different pressures, different angles, different drags, thousands of times.

Ted Simons: This is something Honeywell said we would like to see developed?

Chell Roberts: Oh, yes. Now they are going to use it and now they're testing the devices. You bet.

Ted Simons: General Dynamics. This one I find fascinating as well. A self-sufficient shelter system.

Chell Roberts: Exactly. So one of the problems the military has is they will get soldiers at a remote location and then they have to supply with water and energy those soldiers. A lot of injuries happen because of those convoys that have gone out. What they want developed was more energy, more self-sustaining environment so soldiers can go out, put up their tents, put up an environment, get the energy and be able to stay there without those convoys coming. Our students created one of these environments that will likely go into the next generation of their solution for these soldiers.

Ted Simons: A soldier can go to an isolated region, water, energy can be there for sustained period of time instead of always having to go out and come back?

Chell Roberts: Exactly.

Ted Simons: Wow. And it's working?

Chell Roberts: It's working. Isn't that exciting?

Ted Simons: Yes, it is. Also exciting in a different way is what's going on in Gilbert and dog poop.

Chell Roberts: Dog poop. Exactly right. At the Cosmos Dog Park there are 300 piles of dog poop left a day in the park. This is after citizens cleaning some of it up themselves. They came and said, "What can we do about this dog poop?" We had an idea. We put a student team together with a faculty member and with the city. We created a way to digest the dog pop and create energy, gas, which now will light the lamps in the dog park. That's going underground this week where they are going to use that.

Ted Simons: More than one lamp?

Chell Roberts: Right now we have one lamp. We'll add multiple lamps as we go. Now we have been contacted by New York, Central Park, interested in doing the same thing inside their parks.

Ted Simons: So basically you take the dog out there, he does his business, the business is converted into energy and lights the park so the dog has a better view of himself doing his business.

Chell Roberts: I guess that's it.

Ted Simons: Last one, a solar aided hot water system that SRP is developing but you guys are teaming with them on this how?

Chell Roberts: SRP gives rebates for solar devices that people buy. One of their questions is, how well do they work? When we give a rebate do we know we're getting an improvement in energy efficiency and how much? We teamed to put in a number of solar devices and to spend a year testing those in different climates, different times of day so we could characterize for them how much efficiency is gained by the solar devices.

Ted Simons: and again, viable, working?

Chell Roberts: Viable. Working.

Ted Simons: These are real industry -- these are not academic exercises here. Give us an overview of i-projects and what students are getting from all these developments.

Chell Roberts: You bet. So as I told you earlier, we care about students learning in a different way. When students hear things, many students, when they hear things they learn in one way. When they do things they learn it much more deeply. We created a whole environment with all these industry partners that come in. Industry partners benefit in many ways. They benefit because you have students now that you get to try out for a year, see how well they do. They benefit because they get intellectual property. Our students benefit in a different way. Imagine the resume when they actually have done something, created a new device. They have something viable versus I have a degree and a grade.

Ted Simons: And they have connections with some of the people they are working with.

Chell Roberts: Often an entire team or 50% to an entire team will be hired by the company.

Ted Simons: It sounds like a great deal. Congratulations and continued success on this. This is very encouraging and sounds like it's working.

Chell Roberts: I forgot to mention just won a President's Innovation Award. So, yes it's working! And it's going to get bigger and better.

Ted Simons: Great to have you here.

Chell Roberts: Thanks so much.

Chell Roberts:Executive Dean, ASU College of Innovation and Technology;

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