Student Projects Provide Real Solutions at Innovate to Grow Event


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Aug 25, 2023

Student Projects Provide Real Solutions at Innovate to Grow Event

Dozens of innovative ideas were on display at UC Merced's Innovate to Grow event

Dozens of innovative ideas were on display at UC Merced's Innovate to Grow event May 11. The biannual event provides an opportunity for engineering students to showcase their capstone projects, in which teams work with local businesses and other institutions for several months to solve problems or challenges.

Students demonstrated their projects for judges and the public. The winning teams created the following: a more precise chute to direct fruit cocktail into a can, a safer hose key used in processing grapes into wine, a more efficient mowing system, an HVAC system for a building in Cairo, and portable headgear to detect concussion symptoms in the field.

Throughout the event, held in the gymnasium of the Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center, students displayed and demonstrated projects as varied as using robots to transport payloads for farmers to making a piece of apparel that could hold multiple mastectomy drains after a mastectomy surgery so that the patient could be hands-free.

Sam Walley was part of a team that developed a remote eye examination tool for Valley Children's Hospital. Using a virtual reality headset, the system registered responses from volunteers and compared them to the normal range.

"It scans their eyes and looks at the full range of their view," Walley said. "All a patient has to do is put on the headset."

A monitor displayed what the patient sees and provides graphs denoting a normal range of measurements.

"If this bar is really low, the person may have astigmatism," said team member Austin Matthews.

Other teams displayed posters for ideas that had not yet reached reality. One of them was an idea for an app that would warn people in the path of potential flooding - predicated by the January levee break that impacted nearby Planada.

"Innovate to Grow provides a valuable opportunity for students to prepare for the engineering workforce," said Professor Alejandro Gutiérrez , who oversees the event. "Every project we have represents a real need by an external partner, so our students are literally gaining work experience while also completing academic requirements. Our program bridges the gap between the classroom and the engineering profession, and in doing so constitutes one of the strongest engines for social mobility at UC Merced."

After the day-long competition, the winners were named at an evening reception. They, and their project descriptions, are as follows:

Track 1 (Health) - Team 117: Vivian Nguyen, Christian Quintero Meza, Annie Ly, Caroline Amadet Barragan-Laguna, Kristal Navarro. The team was tasked by Valleys Children's Hospital to develop a portable headgear for early concussion diagnosis According to the Academy of Pediatrics, there are about 1.4 million cases of concussions annually. Often, the diagnosis of brain injury and timely intervention is delayed with decision making by non-healthcare providers in the field. The team's solution involves using dry EEG sensors with a P50 Auditory Stimulus Test. The P50 test records brain waves in response to repeated auditory stimuli every 500ms and analyzes them 50ms after the click. By measuring the percentage decrease of the brain waves, patients can be advised on whether medical attention is necessary in a timely manner.

Track 2 (Mechanics) - Team 114: Xaiver Vega, Lukas Fong, Ethan Murcia, Noah Johnson, Ray Medina. Every year, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) holds a design competition for HVAC systems. The team entered the Design Calculations category, designing and laying out an entire HVAC system for a building in Cairo, Egypt. Given CAD drawings, ASHRAE standards, and an OPR, the team provided heating and cooling load calculations, mechanical floor plan (duct size and layout, piping size and layout, etc.), coil sizing and selection, and Air Handling Unit selection.

Track 3 (AgTech) - Team 110: Alex Huynh, Galo Mora, Ricardo Diaz, Marco Garcia, Esmeralda Ochoa. California Transplants, an agricultural nursery company that specializes in growing transplants for commercial use, grows several vegetables that require repeated mowing to increase the strength and girth of the transplant. The current mowing system is time consuming, requires too many employees and costs too much to run. This team designed a system that is portable and will minimize operators and maximize savings. The machine is composed of a robot for travel and two large folding arms for suspended mowers. After testing with the robot and fabricated parts, the machine will then be implemented long-term into mowing operations.

Track 4 (Precision) - Team 107: Reid Mcleod, Antonio Villalobos, Kamila Ramirez, Govargiz Sayyad Shahbaz, Fernando Cruz. E. & J. Gallo Winery processes tons of grapes to make wine every year. To transform this much juice into wine takes multiple movements that require large, heavy, sanitary hoses. The brass couplings at the end of the hose are hooked up to stainless-steel pipe drops that connect tanks to processing equipment, or to other tanks for wine blending. The employees that attach or detach these hoses to the pipe drops are named "Rack & Blenders" and use a stainless-steel hose key. Hose connections are often tightly fastened and can take a large force to get on or off. Using the hose key with excessive force could cause a potential risk to the Rack & Blenders. If the hose key slips off the brass ears, it may cause injuries to the employees and damage surrounding equipment. The team has designed a greatly improved hose key that provides the Rack and Blenders with a safer and more robust and ergonomic tool to perform their labor-intensive task with reduced risk of injury. The tool is undergoing operational testing.

Track 5 (Food) Team 123: Brandon Baltazar, Adrian Rivera, Xerxes Zangeneh, Carlos Pedraza, Jessica Romero. Food processor Del Monte Foods, Inc. is losing monetary value due to its fruit spillage loss on conveyor lines and during the filling of the cans. To decrease the spillage that occurs on the conveyor line the team developed a can cover system that provides enough coverage to reduce spillage without increasing the probability of a jam occurring. The team also decreased fruit spillage during the filling of the cans by creating a chute to precisely direct the fruit into the cans, thus reducing the fruit spilled over the sides when filling.

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