Innovative Ideas

Some Innovative Projects

Veteroil: About 200 million tons of yard waste are trashed in US landfills each year. This costs cities 7.3 billion dollars. The team proposes an innovative and inexpensive method for extracting energy from yard waste. The end product is called Veteroil. The solution conserves the environment and contributes to savings. Learn more here.

Food Innovators: Rescue Restaurant Food Waste to Address Hunger. In the United States (U.S.) alone, 40 percent of the nation’s food goes uneaten. Of that 40 percent, 15 percent alone can be attributed to restaurants. In response, the team proposes to develop a compact, easy-to-use, self-automated food-preserving machine for restaurants. Such a system would then allow unused food to go to those who experience food insecurity. Learn more here.

ADetector: Real-time Accident Detection on Michigan Highways. According to police reports, there were about 500,000 accidents in Michigan in 2013. Once an accident occurs, there is a huge backup of traffic which demands an immediate response from the police, ambulance and fire department. Currently, someone has to call 911 after accident occurs, but, who will make the call and how to tell the location. Imagine if a computer system can detect the accident at a real time and alert the dispatch authorities about the location immediately. Learn more here.

Taste Palate: People have different ‘taste’ preferences, based on geographical and cultural factors. A chef needs a quantitative measure of bitterness, sweetness, saltiness, and spiciness to be able to satisfy desire of 90% of customers.  The team has created a website where individuals can record their taste, and restaurant owners can access individual and aggregated summary taste profile. Learn more here. 

AidTech: Aid technologies to help people with disabilities (Enabling the Disabled).  The team has researched effects of mobility habits on muscle and joint stress . Learn more here. 

How Innovation Works:

Our current education system heavily relies on preparing skilled workers competencies such as writing, reading, troubleshooting, and problem-solving, but not innovating or inventing. A thoughtful question for educators is whether innovation can be taught, or it is randomly generated by geniuses. From 1997 to 2014, I had substantial education and experience in engineering including obtaining multiple degrees and work in various places. However, I never knew how new products are innovated or whether I am capable of making any innovations. In the summer of 2014, I had the professional training for Engineering Design and Development. That was where I learned that there is a process for innovation and it can be taught. Since then, I have supervised more than 20 teams of college students who came up with amazing ideas and they have built functional prototypes to prove their ideas. In particular, I led two teams of students in the NSF Community College Innovation Challenge” competitions in 2015 and 2016. In both two years, the teams were among the top 10 national finalists. Successful innovations usually address a need in a society or community. For instance, they may tackle a failure in the current technology. Therefore, it is necessary that innovators conduct customer interviews to validate the problem and assess the market for their ideas. A search in patents and commercial products can be helpful for identifying the originality of an idea. Innovations demands brainstorming, team-working, failing and keep trying. A supervisor should help students with their confusion, and give them the courage to innovate. One of the major challenges that an educator may face is the lack of technical skills in students such as the inability to design electrical or mechanical systems. Therefore, it is suggested to spend some times on teaching the fundamental concepts of engineering design and approximation. I had a presentation in Michigan PLTW conference on this this topic in November 2016. You can read more here. 

How come up with an innovative idea:

An innovative idea should address an important problem in our community. Therefore, we should we start with a problem, but not a solution. We know a problem but we can not offer a solution. This is where we need to work on technical skills. A good process for initiating ideas is to start listing our interests (hobbies), then listing what we hate and love related to those interest. For instance, my interest is education, but I hate when I can not easily find a parking spot in the school.


A process for brainstorming problems

Here are some criteria for selecting a problem idea:

  • The problem can be addressed in the given time.
  • The problem can be solved with the available resources.
  • Initial research supports the validity of problem.
  • The solution is likely to meet a specific need and/or be marketable.
  • The problem is interesting enough to keep the team engaged.

Engineering Design Process for Innovation

I had a presentation on Michigan PLTW conference in 2015 about Practice of Engineering Design Process for a National Competition“.  The design process starts with a clear problem statement. Then, the design specification step pushes us to think more about what functionalities/expectations we have about our idea. We brainstorm different possible solutions and start to design details for some preferred solutions.


Engineering Design Process