More than 60 Texas A&M University students gathered Friday for the start of a 48-hour international event that would connect as many as 600 students from around the world.
In the second annual Invent for the Planet event, students will work together to brainstorm and construct prototypes of solutions to humanitarian issues such as disease prevention, automobile safety, cultural workforce inclusion and mental health support, just to name a few.
On Friday evening, dozens of Aggie students from different disciplines of study could be seen bustling to and fro between heavy equipment and white boards at the SuSu and Mark A. Fischer ’72 Engineering Design Center on campus. They would soon open communications with peers in countries including Belgium, Brazil, Vietnam, India and Pakistan. Participating students from each college are, at a local level, encouraged to team up in groups of six or more, latching on to one of 16 unique humanitarian need-based prompts.
Each group is given 48 hours to develop the rudimentary representation of a device or system that could potentially be pitched to a company for mass production and patenting. This year, representatives from sponsoring companies Microsoft, USAID, VentureWell, Autodesk, Airbus and the National Academy of Engineering [NAE] are made available either in-person or online to advise students as they work. For this phase of the competition, students are only competing against other students from their respective universities. Later this month, the first-place team from each school will compete internationally against one another after they have polished their initial design. By the end of the semester, the winning team from among 25 schools involved will be selected by an international panel of five judges.
“Last year, the winners from a college in Myanmar came up with the idea of creating light from a sewing machine pedal, in collaboration with a Texas A&M team,” said Kristina Ballard, spokeswoman with A&M’s College of Engineering. “Burma is a place in poverty, with turmoil and war, but it’s crazy — their team had such an applicable and usable concept. Their story was such a great story last year.”
Though teams from different schools may ultimately face each other in the final round of Invent for the Planet, constructive criticism and advice from their partnerships over online chat and livestream videos might be important for success during the first 48 hours of local competitions.
“If you can find a flaw in someone’s project, so can the judges,” Ballard said. “You will want to address that, regardless of whether it took some help from a team in Pakistan or China.”
Texas A&M students will be given free rein of the Fischer Engineering Design Center and all its resources this weekend, whether it be a 3-D printer, heavy equipment or a simple sheet of paper or plastic utensil.
One group of six Texas A&M students banded together Friday night over shared interest in one of the competition’s 16 prompts: improving health systems in rural communities.
Aggie senior Amanda Gibbens, sophomore Jacob Hardin, graduate student Kaustubh Bawdekar, junior Darian Edy, junior David Salinas and junior Paula Garza are all studying different variations of engineering but are connected by the common thread of interest in improving the lives of people in underserved areas.
Gibbens noted that she and Edy had both recently spent time in Rwanda, where they worked as equipment technicians and saw firsthand the needs of people who often have limited access to medical supplies, drugs and updated information.
“I’ve experienced certain technologies there that could be improved upon,” Gibbons said.
“Within these rural communities they do get information, but it becomes secondhand, so the information could be incorrect,” Edy said. ”If they had one source that didn’t change, with supplies and information they could draw upon and use, that would be really helpful.”
As of early Friday night, the group were still bouncing ideas off of one another but were considering such topics as medical supply delivery.
“I like to call it the ‘Amazon of medical delivery’ idea,” Bawdekar suggested. “Say a guy goes in, sees his patient needs medicine, and then orders the drugs and maybe a drone drops something off.”
The group discussed that whatever idea they landed upon and put to work by Sunday, they’d like to see it materialize beyond just the competition. Ballard noted that the program does provide students avenues of seeking patents for their ideas once the event is over.
“We do want to make sure to take our idea as far as we can,” Jacob Hardin said.
Local winners will be decided this Sunday, and these students will be awarded a small cash prize by the university. The first place winner from A&M will move on to compete internationally by submitting a 10-minute presentation online by Feb. 27.
For more information on this program, visit engineering.tamu.edu/student-life/aggies-invent.