This year’s finalists and their inventions provide a glimpse into the future of American innovation and emerging technological trends — from a harp-inspired water harvester to a steerable microcatheter. Through their research, these college students have harnessed their “inner inventor” to make working prototypes that can positively change our world.
Among the finalists is a team that uses advanced optics to identify crop diseases.
Each year, individuals representing a broad cross-section of technological fields serve as first-round judges, evaluating entries based on originality of the idea, process, level of student initiative, and potential value and usefulness to society. The finalists will travel to Alexandria, Va., to present their inventions to an esteemed panel of final-round judges composed of the most influential inventors and invention experts in the nation — National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees and United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) officials.
“The USPTO is proud to be the host and presenting sponsor for the 2018 Collegiate Inventors Competition — a program where the brightest college minds in our country will present the future of American innovation,” said Andrei Iancu, under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and drector of the USPTO. “It is inspiring to participate in an event that showcases the strength of our nation’s Innovation Ecosystem.”
Competition Finalists will showcase their inventions and interact with thousands of USPTO patent and trademark examiners, sponsors, media and the public at the Collegiate Inventors Competition Expo. The Expo is free and open to all in the community, and it will be held on Friday, Nov. 16 at 11 a.m. in the USPTO Madison Building, Lower Atrium, with the Awards Ceremony immediately following at noon.
Established in 1990, the Collegiate Inventors Competition is a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and is sponsored by the USPTO, Arrow Electronics and Invista.
Follow the National Inventors Hall of Fame on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live updates, exclusive interviews with Finalists and Winners, and additional information.
CropDoc, Brown University
Team Members: Jack Roswell, Abigail Kohler, Eli Silvert, Alex Zhuk; Advisor: Chandra Madramootoo
Sensing Sick Crops: Pests and crop diseases kill 20 percent of all crops before harvest, causing an annual $990 billion loss in farm income. No current technology can identify specific diseases on farms. Using advanced optics and novel processing techniques, CropDoc provides farmers with actionable insights regarding the location and projected progression of pests and specific crop diseases — weeks before visual symptoms manifest.
Neuraline, Georgia Institute of Technology
Team Members: Alexander Bills, Lucas Muller, Cassidy Wang, Dev Mandavia; Advisor: James Rains
Epidural Accuracy: Annually, about 3 million women in the United States receive anesthesia in the spine, known as an epidural, during labor. About one in eight cases results in complications because of incorrect injection placement. Neuraline identifies a promising injection site at the epidural needle’s tip by measuring the electrical properties and composition of the body. A light notifies practitioners they are in the right spot. Accurately pinpointing the epidural space can help administer the epidural in about a quarter of the time.
Pascal Tags, University of Louisville
Team Member: Brandon Young; Advisor: Thad Druffel
Battery-Free Inventory Tracking: In 2017, about 1.7 billion people worldwide shopped online, a number that’s expected to reach 2.1 billion by 2021. As demand grows, retailers must improve their supply chain to maintain quick shipping of products to waiting customers. Tracking inventory is a monumental and expensive task that costs companies more than $1 trillion each year. Pascal Tags offer a durable, battery-free, cost-effective inventory tag detection system with a nearly unlimited range, informing companies what is in their inventory and where it is located.
Radiex, Johns Hopkins University
Team Members: Linh Tran, Kevin Tu, Jody Mou; Advisor: Amir Manbachi
Extending Brain Surgery’s Reach: During brain surgery, a retractor with metal blades holds brain tissue apart to maintain a working channel. Existing retractors hinder tumor removal and can cause further injury from pressure on brain tissue. Radiex’s cylindrical, compact design allows surgeons to access the brain through the smallest point of entry. Once in place, Radiex has the flexibility to gradually expand, increasing the surgeon’s area of visibility without added pressure to tissue.
Rhino, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Team Members: Elizabeth Bianchini, Ann McInroy, Kyler Kocher, Sam Resnick; Advisor: Warren Seering
Less Mortar Mess: Removing decaying, crumbling mortar from between bricks to subsequently replace it with new mortar is a messy, tedious and time-consuming job in the construction field. This process, joint raking, generates so much silica dust that workers must wear respirators and goggles for safety. Rhino is a masonry tool attachment that can be used with any traditional rotary hammer. It improves accuracy and safety of joint raking, allowing masons to cover 50 percent more area during a given time.
Automatic Tracking of Surgical Instruments, University of California at Berkeley (Arrow Electronics Innovation Prize Winner)
Team Members: Federico Alvarez del Blanco, John J. Kim, Robert Kim, Hector D. Neira; Advisor: Verna Gibbs
Operating Efficiently: Surgical technicians manually count and log surgical instruments at multiple stages before, during and after a surgery. This can lead to the misplacement of tools, lengthy delays and surgical errors that annually cost the U.S. healthcare system around $2 billion. This invention uses computer vision and machine learning to identify, count and keep track of instruments for surgeries, automating and revolutionizing instrument management across hospitals.
The Automatic Tracking of Surgical Instruments team is the winner of the Arrow Electronics Innovation Prize, which is chosen by a panel of judges from Arrow Electronics. This exclusive prize advances the team to the final round of judging at the November competition, and it includes a private networking opportunity with Arrow Electronics — a Fortune 113 global technology-solutions provider.
Fog Harp, Virginia Tech
Team Member: Weiwei Shi; Advisors: Jonathan Boreyko, Brook Kennedy
Fresh, Free — Fog: As much as two-thirds of the world’s population could face a future water shortage. In response, fog harvesting provides an alternative, low-cost source of fresh water. Current fog harvesters catch fog droplets on a wire mesh, but either cannot capture fog droplets effectively or get clogged doing so. The Fog Harp uses vertical wires instead of a mesh, allowing for efficient droplet collection and drainage without clogging.
Neurotendo, University of California at San Diego
Team Member: Gopesh Tilvawala; Advisor: James Friend
A Brainier Approach: Unruptured aneurysms in the brain are found in one in 50 people in the United States. They potentially can be treated by minimally invasive surgery, but existing surgical methods are often ineffective. Neurotendo addresses the need for a controlled approach to navigation of brain arteries and treatment of cerebral aneurysms with a steerable microcatheter that translates a neurosurgeon’s command into the motion of the catheter tip. This micro surgical medical device enables precise navigation, reduction of procedure times and a safer technique.
OSPRI, Case Western Reserve University
Team Members: David Pfau, Sanjit Datta, Eric Salomon, Charit Tippareddy; Advisor: Daniel Lacks
Color Your Water Clean: An inadequate supply of clean water accounts for 3.4 million deaths each year. Optimized Solar Purification with a Reusable Indicator, or OSPRI, was developed to address the need of low-cost clean water in the developing world. Used with solar disinfection techniques, OSPRI is a reusable UV-radiation-measuring sensor that changes color to notify a user that the treated water is safe to drink. OSPRI could increase access to clean drinking water worldwide, drastically reducing waterborne illnesses.
PionEar, Harvard University
Team Members: Nicole Black, Michael J. Kreder; Advisors: Joanna Aizenberg and Jennifer Lewis
Clearing Your Hearing: Ear infections are a leading cause of healthcare visits worldwide, affecting more than 700 million people annually. Ear tubes, used to treat chronic ear infections, have several limitations. As many as 40 percent fail due to issues including clogging, bacterial adhesion, premature extrusion and the inability to effectively transport fluids out of the middle ear space. PionEar uses a bioinspired combination of novel 3-D printed designs and a liquid-infused material to combat these issues with the goal of reducing unnecessary revision surgeries to replace failed ear tubes.
SUPRA, Boston University
Team Member: Jang Hwan Cho; Advisors: Wilson Wong, Jim Collins
CARs Driving Cancer Treatment: CAR T-cell immunotherapy is a rapidly emerging cancer treatment that utilizes the patient’s immune system to recognize, target and eliminate tumor cells. This therapy involves removing T-cells from the patient, genetically engineering the T-cells with receptors that target specific proteins on tumor cells and reintroducing the T-cells into the body. SUPRA utilizes a modular design and improved receptor system allowing for multiple proteins to be targeted, increasing the efficacy and overall safety of cancer treatment.