Innovation prize-winner would help firefighters get out alive- Winners at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Innovation Days contest for engineering undergraduates.

Tools for firefighters and fishermen won the day at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Innovation Days contest for engineering undergraduates.

Seventeen teams of inventors met last Thursday and Friday at the Engineering Centers building to present their projects to a five-member panel of judges, competing for awards totaling nearly $30,000.

Les Chappell

First place and $10,000 in the Schoofs Prize for Creativity competition were awarded to the FireSite team of engineering students Nick O’Brien, Chandler Nault and Mitch Nick. The team designed a tracking system, similar in principle to GPS, that lets firefighters drop a trail of radio beacons to mark their path through a burning building.

Colored lights inside the firefighter’s mask show activated beacons and partners on a top-down view that moves as the firefighter moves. The screen gives the firefighters a way to cut through the fire and smoke, which can reduce visibility to inches and prevent them from navigating or seeing when their partners are in danger.

"It’s very scary to get into a room, turn around and get lost … a lot of the time they wind up walking around with their hand on the wall until they find a door," Nault said. "We’re giving them a frame of reference, a map of the fire."

The Tong Prototype Award for best working model went to Sean McHone, creator of a remote-controlled fishing lure called the RoboMouse. The lure, designed to look like a small rodent that big game fish prey on, can be maneuvered into weedy areas that are difficult to cast into. Once the fish takes the bait, it triggers three hooks that shoot out from the lure.

McHone, who also won $4,000 by taking third place in the Schoofs Prize for Creativity, said he was surprised by the number of people who came solely to see his prototype, including a pair of "aggressive fishermen" who wanted to know when it would be released in stores.

"It’s a complex sport, so people are looking for high-tech solutions," McHone said.

Second place in the Schoofs competition, and $7,000, went to the Baseboard Booster team of Ben Jaeger, Natalie Meagher, Mark Webb, Lynn Daul, and Dominic Kasten. The team designed a collapsible stepladder that gives users a seven-foot reach and can be collapsed to four inches for storage under kitchen cabinets. Daul also won the Sorenson Design Notebook award of $1,000, which was introduced this year to recognize good documentation of ideas.

PortagePro, designed by Mark Osbeck, Scott Gaman, Kyle Larson and Anders Brown, took prizes in both competitions and involves a technique to carry a canoe by transferring most of the weight to backpacks.

Other projects included:

* EasyMeasure Syringe, which can accurately measure medicine to approximately 0.001 cubic centimeters. It is designed for diabetes patients who need to take insulin injections every day and provides a keypad to count off the dosage and a motor to perform the injection.

* Aqua Skimmers, a pair of floating blocks, shaped like a cross between skis and boats, that allow people to walk on water. Metal flaps on the bottom allow water to flow through and give users improved balance, letting them walk into deep water and foot-high waves.

* Silent Cellular Alert, a wristband that is keyed into a user’s cell phone, sending them a signal when they get a call.

David Smukowski, founder of Boeing Ventures and one of the event’s judges, praised the creativity of each team but said that all of them needed to pay more attention to marketing. He hoped the winners would use the money to push their ideas forward and contribute money back ot the university in the future.

"Hopefully, you’ll come back and create a cycle of innovation for all of us," Smukowski said.

Les Chappell is a staff features writer for WTN and can be contacted at [email protected]

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