Monday, April 27, 2015

From electric skateboards to virtual reality: Engineering undergraduates show off their entrepreneurial spirit

Imagine that you have an idea that could change the way a part of the world or the world as a whole functions – perhaps it is a customizable electric longboard or a device that gamifys Nanoengineering (just two of the ideas percolating at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego). Now imagine you were given the chance to explain your idea to a panel of judges in just 60 seconds – could you do it?

As a function of “The Basement” at UC San Diego – a campus-wide enterprise operated by Alumni & Community Engagement and dedicated to UC San Diego’s entrepreneurial community – students across all disciplines were given the opportunity to do just that at the Moxie Center Pitchfest, which takes place every quarter. “No sign-ups, no requirements,” the quarterly event signage boasts.

As you can imagine, the Jacobs School is a breeding ground for new ideas that can easily translate into a business pitch. We reached out to a few of the engineers that gave a pitch at last quarter’s event:

Josh Cohen, Bioengineering, 2015

Josh Cohen
“Together, my partner Aditya Bansal and I founded Trainio, and we are currently developing the SpeedTrain device,” said Cohen.

“This is the first device to give individual athletes and coaches of all levels the ability to intelligently improve their speed/agility and train smarter.

“The SpeedTrain device features easy to set-up wireless sensors that go on the track/field/training surface and connect with your smartphone to effortlessly record, track, and analyze your speeds in a variety of agility and sprinting exercises.

“Furthermore, the SpeedTrain app provides feedback and training suggestions custom to your sport(s) and your training results to provide you with the best possible competitive advantage.

“In recent years, new technology and the capabilities of smartphones combined with the Internet of Things has revolutionized many industries, but athletic training cannot yet be included in that list. Our goal at Trainio is to use this new technology to develop better athletic training solutions for athletes and coaches of all sports and across all levels of those sports.

"I would encourage anyone interested in athletic technology to please join or email list and/or contact us for more info at .”

Cohen took home the judge’s choice award ($100) for his business pitch.

In line with his entrepreneurial interests, Cohen is a highly decorated athlete (soccer, skiing, you name it!) and certified referee. He served as goal-keeper for the UC San Diego Men’s Soccer team for four years (the maximum allowed by the NCAA). Outside of entrepreneurism and athletics, Cohen has participated in numerous design projects as an engineering student, including the Max Tech and Beyond Design Competition and the UC San Diego Entrepreneur Challenge.

Carl Demolder, Mechanical Engineering, 2017

Carl Demolder
Slithr Electric Vehicles is developing customizable electric longboards for urban commuters, tech enthusiasts, and action sport junkies,” said Demolder.

“With our adaptable module, our unit can fit on any longboard or skateboard deck allowing users to customize their vehicle to match the rider’s height, weight, and skill level. We offer a 13 mile range through our drive hub motors and low friction Shark Wheels that gives our electric longboard a non-intrusive design. To control the speed and acceleration of our 2000 Watt vehicle, users have the option of using a wireless hardware controller, a smartphone app, or the Myo Armband. 

“In the future, I see Slithr Electric Vehicles expanding from electric longboards into other unique vehicles for urban commuters such as skates, decks, and cycles. We have been researching 4-phase motors and fluoride batteries, and we hope we can advance our research to the point where we can 
integrate this technology into vehicles for urban commuters.”


Demolder, who is CEO & Head Engineer at Slithr Electric Vehicles, took home the audience choice award ($50) for his business pitch. Outside of building his company, Demolder has interned with Advanced Projects Research, Inc. and tutored math students.

Steven McCloskey, Nanoengineering, 2015

Steven McCloskey interacting in a virtual atomic environment
“My idea is to take simulations of atomic systems into virtual reality using new Head Mounted Displays – the displays provide a hands on approach to learning about the fundamental forces in our universe by allowing the players to build atoms,” said McCloskey. “They also create a fully immersive 3D modeling environment for building atomic structures including crystal structures, chemicals, and biological systems. We are currently using Oculus Rifts.

“We are gamifying the entire process of becoming a Nanoengineer to make Nanoengineering more accessible to millions of people around the world. As the player progresses through the game, each achievement/level-up instructs the player in tangible Nanoengineering skills as they interact with simulated atoms. At the end of the game, players unlock a sandbox mode where they can freely build and simulate atomic systems, as well as design materials-dependent 3D printable files.

“In 5-10 years, I see millions of players developing new nanotechnologies using our software, collaborating in virtual spaces and self-organized groups. The software represents a decentralized, crowd-sourced approach to space exploration and the enrichment of our life on Earth.

“Our project website is – be aware, we still need to update and refine it.”

Aside from McCloskey’s interest in entrepreneurism, he serves as a materials science research assistant and captain of the UC San Diego Men’s Rugby team. McCloskey has also taken part in the annual Triton Junkyard Derby, put on by the Triton Engineering Student Council.

Ryan Hill, Computer Engineering, 2017

Ryan Hill
“I'm working with Joseph Le (Computer Science,) Mike Shi (Math/CS,) and Thomas Chang (Human Computer Interaction), and our idea focuses on providing a platform that allows users to explore the world and share their adventures via a Google map-like interface that results in a photo/video map of the world,” said Hill.

“We want you to see breaking news, historical wonders, local celebrations and much more, all through the eyes of those who are there to experience them live.

“The concept is brand new, and we are only a recent admit to The Basement, so it's hard to tell exactly where my team and I will end up. However, I know our entrepreneurial spirit will push us to continue working, even if the idea doesn't. We've talked to a few large venture capitalist firms in the bay area, and the idea really found traction with two of them."

In addition to his involvement with The Basement, Hill currently serves as an officer for the Triton Engineering Student Council and as Professional Development Chair for the Computer Science and Engineering Society.

Stay tuned for more as we keep up with these engineering entrepreneurs!

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