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Inside Stanford’s science fair on steroids: 10 brilliant student inventions

stanford product showcase 2

On Wednesday, Stanford’s Arrillaga Alumni Center hosted around 100 teams of innovators in what might be the science fair to end all science fairs. For the students, it was a chance to flex their creative muscles, show off their creations, and maybe even walk away with the $50,000 grand prize. For onlookers, it was a glimpse into the future from a crop of young minds that have only just begun to shape it.

The Product Showcase event, as it’s called, was put together by BASES, the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students. BASES is comprised of undergraduate and graduate students and is perhaps the largest student group at the school. It’s also one of the largest (and oldest) student-run entrepreneurship organizations in the world. Founded in 1996, the group began with five Stanford grad students who figured that they needed to include a little business savvy with their engineering curriculum. BASES now has a sort of holistic view towards product creation, being an interdisciplinary team with members from business, engineering, law, medicine, humanities and other schools at Stanford.

Wednesday’s event is just one third of BASES’ $150,000 challenge, which includes the Entrepreneurial Challenge and the Social E-Challenge completed earlier this year. Unlike the other two competitions, which involved business plans, the focus of the showcase is easily surmised: Teams built products and showed them off. Fliers for the event dubbed it, “a science fair on steroids.”   Anyone was allowed to enter, though at least one member of a team had to be affiliated with the school. Besides the prize money, the event offered teams an arena to publicize their ideas and network with like-minded enthusiasts.

solar carCopy for the event touted notable Stanford names such as Larry Page and Sergey Brin, implying that any one of the innovators in the hall could be the next name dominating tech news. Mark Zuckerberg’s shadow also generated buzz, with good reason since social media projects took up a good portion of the booths.

Website ideas spanned the gamut from homework help to full sensory luxury shopping (; invite-only food communities to help you find the perfect chef for dinner parties (; Facebook interest organizing; a social search engine that mines relevant data from your network to answer your questions ( TechCrunch favorite ChompOn, the niche group buying deals platform, also had a booth and ran out of business cards quickly.

There were plenty of apps as well, such as NeedRouter, an altruistic app which finds ways to connect people within communities such as dorms, to request and fulfill needs. MadPad allows people to sample everyday sounds and noises to create music — I walked in on the presenter making a song out of bicycle sounds. Other apps were simple in focus and design, like eggaduppa: a massive rock-paper-scissors game with 1,000 people, all playing for $1,000 as the prize.

Other ideas were designed to fight poverty, spur energy conservation, improved medical technology or manifested as just plain cool consumer items. Looking for the cream of the crop? Read on for our top 10 favorite student innovation’s from Stanford’s BASES conference.

Solar Cloud Systemsairship stanford

The Solar Cloud team’s aircraft demanded your attention as soon as you walked into the hall. There may have been more innovative products, but every good entrepreneur knows that crowds love a huge spectacle. One of the team’s engineers told me that the remote-controlled, quad-rotor hybrid airship prototype is currently heavier than air, and they had to take off the solar panels and other equipment for the showcase; but the idea is long-term persistent flight, if not forever. With a video camera strapped to it, the airship would be an economical surveillance and communication tool for remote areas. The solar panels would keep it powered for cheap, and for long periods of time. I asked the engineer if he secretly had any diabolical super villainy airship fantasies, and he told me that with only four pounds of lift the ship would have to be at least three times bigger to support his weight.


The promoter behind mOasis could have easily been on a soap box with a top hat, cane and green-tinted bottle. He pulled me aside to tell me about an ancient 70-year-old Chinese polymers at work in the product, apparently created by a chemist from UC Davis. The miracle compound absorbs 400 times its own weight in water, and could allow farmers to get a 10 to 50 percent better crop yield. Compared to other water storage materials, it costs less and lasts longer. It is also completely non-toxic, biodegradable and FDA approved.


I was corrected when I asked how the “motorized skateboard” works. Unlike a skateboard, the Transboard is like a “freeboard” that goes in two directions — scratch that — it’s like a Segway crossed with a freeboard. It goes in multiple directions and goes uphill. At max, it goes about 20 MPH. When I asked about safety similarities between the Segway and the Transboard, I was told that they were appealing to “board culture,” meaning you’ll probably need a helmet at the very least.

guitar 2Unplugged Guitars

The Unplugged team’s row was constantly choked with onlookers. I finally managed to bully my way in towards the end of the event to see where the music I’d been hearing all afternoon was coming from. The Unplugged G-Zero Electric Guitar was almost ukelele sized at just over two feet long, and had a 5-inch speaker embedded in it. It had two single-coil pickups and controls for volume, gain and tone. The idea was to carry your amp in your guitar—something you may have seen already, but usually with flat and tinny sound. The team plans to upgrade the eight AA batteries currently needed to power it to a rechargeable design, and give it smartphone capabilities to introduce special effects generated by an iPhone.


Percolater prepares your news feed for you and stores it locally on your device. The idea of this news reader is that, like a coffee drip (witty), the information drips and is collected into your pot (the device). It’s handy because your pages are saved for you even when you don’t have a connection. It’s also fast because everything has been saved and doesn’t need to load.

wanic kitWanic

What is Wanic? It’s a simple tool kit that allows you to ferment your own coconut juice wine. All you need is the kit, six days, 12 steps and a coconut, and you’ve got yourself a sweet wine with 10 percent alcohol by volume. The compact kit comes with a hole puncher and ceramic parts for removing fiber, fermenting and serving. The presenter told me that Wanic could be a solution for those impoverished but with access to a lovely bunch of coconuts; though she probably meant by selling the alcohol. It might also make a handy tool for those hiking through island-y, coconut-abundant territories.


I’m a sucker for the self-sustaining lifestyle, and ever since I saw Ed Begley with a solar oven, I’ve wanted one portable enough to pack into my zombie apocalypse kit. The parabolic inflatable oven focuses the sun’s rays onto a thermally conductive pot, heating water without electricity or fuel and in a package that collapses down for portability. The team actually plans on distributing the lightweight CookSack at no cost in trial areas of Botswanna and Kenya in August. They say the solar oven would be ideal for washing, cooking as well as water purification.

Caleb b BellBell Microsystems

Dr. Caleb B. Bell ( piqued my interest with talk of cellular regeneration. Thoughts of graphic Wolverine comic scenes danced in my head. Dr. Bell said he aims to create technology that will help some of the problems faced in stem cell research, regenerative medicine and cellular-based therapeutic. The problem with injecting cells is finding non-invasive ways of tracking, anatomic homing and localization for the injected cells and finding a way to kill off an injected cell just in case something goes wrong. His solution? Creating zombie soldier cells by putting non-dilutive “nanomagnets” into the cells. The truly interesting part of his patent-protected solution is that the magnetic stamp does not dilute when the cells divide, nor does it involve mucking about in the genome area. Pretty nifty, bub.

UV Music Visualizers

Mr. Parker’s booth looked like a little kid’s lemonade stand. He even advertised a “$10 set-up” scrawled on a small cardboard sign. Small LED lights on the bottom of these bottles corresponded to volume and sound from the music he was playing, translating the electronic frequency to fluorescent liquid in the bottles and lighting them up accordingly. He assured me that every necessary component aside from the empty bottles would be included in the $10.

zombie pop star defenseGameClosure

Another TechCrunch spotlighted product, Game Closure creates HTML5-based multiplayer games for multiple platforms. There’s no need to rewrite software, they write the game once in JavaScript. It’s fast and easy. It’s also great for users because they can play any of these multiplayer games on any device they want: iOS, Android, Facebook and more, with no need for a plug-in.

Editors' Recommendations

Awesome tech you can’t buy yet, for the week of April 20, 2014
Awesome tech 042014

At any given moment there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the Web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or IndieGoGo and you'll find there's no shortage of weird, ambitious, and downright stupid projects out there - far too many for any reasonable person to keep up with. But here at DT we are not reasonable people. We spend an inordinate amount of time poring through crowdfunding sites and product blogs in search of the next Oculus Rift or Pebble Watch, so we're here to bring you a quick roundup of the best projects that are currently up and running.
Greenplay -- Putting Green Mapper
You know that "TigerVision" grid thing you can use on golf simulators and video games to help you better judge a putt? Greenplay is a clever little device that lets you do that in real life. It's designed to be placed on the green, pointing toward the cup, to collect multi-dimensional slope information and beam it wirelessly back to your smartphone. Using an array of accelerometers and other sensors, it can generate a detailed map of the putting green -- complete with those handy little grid lines, and even a spot where you should aim. We're not sure if it can account for things like grass height, grain variation, or moisture; but even if all it does it measure slope, it'd still be a helpful tool to have at your disposal from time to time.
BrewJacket -- Homebrew Refrigeration Unit 
The homebrewing scene in the US has absolutely exploded in the past few years, and now that there are millions of people across the country brewing beer on their own, innovators are beginning to develop high-tech tools aimed specifically at small, backyard brew operations. The latest one to hit Kickstarter is BrewJacket, and it's designed to alleviate a problem that's been plaguing home brewers since the beginning: the fact that you need refrigerated storage space in order to make lagers. Ales are one thing, but lagers require near sub-zero temperatures to slow down the metabolism of the yeast and change the way it digests sugars. BrewJacket lets you cool down a single carboy of beer to lagering temperatures without spending a fortune on a high-capacity fridge or freezer.
Prototypo -- Intuitive Typeface Design Program
Fontmaking software has been around for decades at this point, and there are dozens of different programs out there these days --both free and paid-- that allow you to design your own custom typefaces. The only problem is that, generally speaking, many of them are clunky, difficult to use, and expensive. Prototypo is the answer to this problem. The program's creators designed it to be a super-intuitive, and enable both novice and expert users alike to create their own custom typefaces quickly and easily. You start by choosing a predesigned font, and then use an array of different sliders to tweak the attributes and make it different. Not only can you adjust parameters like height, width, and spacing, but also things like serif shape, optic thickness, and slant. And best of all, it's open source! 
Gramofon -- WiFi Router/Streaming Box
Undoubtedly realizing that there's no shortage of set-top boxes and smart speakers capable of streaming music around your home, global WiFi provider Fon decided it wants to do things a bit differently. Earlier last week the company introduced a new "modern cloud jukebox" called Gramofon -- a stylish little box that's part music streamer and part WiFi router. You start by wiring up Gramofon to your stereo system or speaker system, and then connecting the box to the net via its built-in ethernet port or piggybacking on your existing WiFi connection. From there, simply connect your iOS or Android device to the Gramofon's new WiFi network, and you'll be able to stream Spotify or listen to Fon's own free radio service. 
Dart -- Super Compact Laptop Adapter
Tired of lugging around the bulky adapter cable that came with your laptop when you bought it? Check out Dart. The device's creators are billing it as "the world’s smallest, lightest laptop adapter," and as far as we can tell, they're right. This little bugger looks to be about the same size as two USB wall plug adapters stacked on top of each other, but is somehow still powerful enough charge up your laptop and cellphone at the same time. The project has already blasted past its initial 200K funding goal, and it's still got the better part of a month remaining in the campaign. All the early bird spots have already been snatched up, but if you back the project now you can lock down a Dart of your own for about $90 bucks.

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Philips challenges Apple’s iBeacon with ‘intelligent lighting system’ for shoppers
mistake or misdemeanor mother leaves two month old baby in a shopping cart supermarket

Philips looks set to take on Apple's iBeacon technology with an intelligent lighting system designed to help shoppers find their way around a store while notifying them of special offers relevant to their location.
The Dutch tech company says its new system, which is being tested at this week's Euroshop retail show in Düsseldorf, Germany, works with a companion app on a shopper's smartphone and aims to give them "greater personal control of their shopping experience."
The technology creates a dense communication network throughout a store via special lighting fixtures, each of which incorporates a location-sensing beacon. These start interacting with a shopper's mobile device shortly after they enter the premises. Visitors will be able to bring up a map of the store on their display to more easily search out particular items, while location-based offers and information will be transmitted to the user's phone as they move around the store.
'Personal shopper'
Philips offers the following example of how someone might use its tech:
"If a shopper plans to make a Mexican meal for dinner, the app on their smart phone can serve as a ‘personal shopper.’
It can point him or her to the aisle where they would find a jar of guacamole, or, if they preferred to make it fresh, plot a route through the aisles to the avocados, tomatoes, onions, chilies and limes. As the shopper approaches various products, the app could also introduce new brands available in the store or make suggestions for alternate recipes."
Of course, one of the drawbacks is that if your mobile is constantly bombarded with offers, coupons, "alternate recipes" and other information as you make your way around the store, reading and managing all the incoming data may end up turning your visit into an expedition rather than a brief errand, though perhaps with repeated use you'll learn how to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff.
Commenting on the technology, Philips' Gerben van der Lugt said, "The beauty of the system is that retailers do not have to invest in additional infrastructure to house, power and support location beacons for indoor positioning. The light fixtures themselves can communicate this information by virtue of their presence everywhere in the store."
While Philips hopes its system will help store visitors shop more efficiently, retailers could also benefit by building customer loyalty through targeted discounts and an improved shopping experience. Also, having Philips' energy-efficient lighting installed should mean lower electricity bills at the end of the month.
An increasing number of tech firms and developers are looking at ways to help retailers interact with shoppers, with, for example, Apple's iBeacon micro-location system offering similar features to store visitors, delivered by small transmitters located around the premises.
[Image: Shutterstock]


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There’s a Walkman in my water! Sony shows off its W Walkman’s waterproof skills
sony bottled waterproof w walkman bottle

It’s hard to stand out in today’s audio landscape, even if you’ve got a product as unique as Sony’s W series Walkman - a fully submersible MP3 player/headphones set designed to work underwater. So how is Sony attempting to rise above the fray? By selling it inside a bottle of water, of course.
Gym rats looking for a way to cool down after a hard workout found Sony’s W Walkman lounging in futuristic water bottles next to cans of Coke and bottled water of the more traditional variety - you know, for drinking. If you want a sip of this water, it will cost you about $100.
The W Walkman stores 4GBs of music, can quick charge in 3 minutes for 90 minutes of playtime, or take a longer 3 hour charge for up to 8 hours. And of course, best of all, they are designed to be dunked continuously in up to 2 meters of water. The video below shows the fairly brilliant new marketing strategy, which should definitely make an impression on those looking for a way to take their tunes into the last frontier of portable music.

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