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Smart students and smart thinking

A cloud-connected sensor system that can warn homeowners of a gas leak was among the smart solutions prototyped 

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The prototype cloud-connected sensor system able to warn owners of a gas leak
The prototype cloud-connected sensor system able to warn owners of a gas leak

 

There was no shortage of ground-breaking ideas from this summer’s cohort of high school students on the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and the Science of Smart Cities (ieSoSC) workshop at the NYU Tandon MetroTech campus in New York.

 

Prototypes included included a cloud-connected sensor system able to warn owners of a gas leak and a grid system with no traffic lights that prioritises traffic flow using ultrasonic sensors.

 

Sponsored by National Grid, the ieSoSC charges students with the task of creating technology for real-world problems that impact New York city. The subsequent workshop in which they demonstrate their prototypes wrapped up Tandon’s Summer of STEM, the city’s largest university sponsored STEM enrichment programme, designed to engage students around science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

 

It was the cloud-connected sensor system that earned the stamp of approval from National Grid while other prototypes included:

  • A laser-based system for measuring pedestrian traffic patterns in two-dimensional space. This could be used to measure things like pedestrian traffic concentrations or where people in retail situations tend to congregate (useful for optimising retail strategy)
  • Door-mounted lasers and sensors to measure the number of people entering and leaving a subway car at each stop. Door-mounted indicators tell riders how full the car is, and the system would upload each car’s passenger volume to a central passenger notification system via subway wi-fi, allowing subsequent stations to alert riders where they should congregate to access the emptiest cars
  • A subway system that uses no electricity. This invention is essentially a water tunnel in which the flow of water drives submersible subway cars. The walls of this submersible subway are lined with magnets that keep the submersible vehicle from touching the walls.

Ben Esner, director of NYU Tandon’s School of Engineering Centre for K12 STEM Education, reckons young people are creative by nature and part of its mission as a research university is to provide an environment that nurtures and celebrates “unconstrained thinking”.

 

As part of the programme, the students work with graduates in computer engineering, mechatronics, and civil engineering as well as have contact with smart cities researchers who are working on new applications.

 

The ieSoSC was a pilot programme and one that Tandon had wanted to do for a long time as a follow-up to its middle school SoSC programme. The “part two” experience aims to build on the SoSC curriculum and gives smart cities-inspired students an opportunity to learn more, apply their knowledge and skills, and prototype their ideas.

 

“This summer’s pilot was certainly a success, and we are committed to continuing it next summer and hopefully expanding the number of students we involve,” says Esner.

 

“We appreciate support from the National Grid, but also want to engage other companies and institutions that seek to advance the ways engineering and technology contribute to urban sustainability and quality of life.”

 

With great innovation coming out of programmes such as this and others, the challenge is harnessing it so that prototypes have a chance of evolving into real-world solutions. According to Esner, it is important to put in place ongoing mentorship for the students involved in projects from STEM professionals as well as companies and organisations working on smart cities.

 

“And partnerships with existing or up-and-coming businesses, connections to incubators, and, of course, funding sources would also highly motivate both the students in the programme and their Tandon Engineering mentors,” he says.

 

Esner has no doubt about the importance of programmes such as this to the overall smart cities movement in the US. “The students in ieSoSC (high school), and its ongoing predecessor programme, Science of Smart Cities (middle school), not only begin to understand what the term ‘smart city’ means but gain real-world experience and technical skills that apply that concept to areas such as energy, infrastructure, communication and transportation,” he says and adds: “Some will surely become the smart cities innovators, engineers and computer scientists of the near future.”

 

In addition, the university has observed how the ieSoSC and SoSC expos educate citizens on the topic such as parents, siblings, extended family members, educators and the general public. “As part of the programme students prototype and demonstrate smart cities technologies they create and are trained through our partnership with Irondale Theatre in presentation and public speaking techniques,” he explains.

 

“This combination of strong presentation and engaging projects raises awareness and broadens knowledge among the public about smart cities engineering and technology applications.

 

“Plus, parents regularly report to us that their children in the programme explain in great detail, and with great passion, the activities and projects they’ve worked on during the day and the STEM concepts that power them. In these ways, students, families and others are inspired and motivated to become smart advocates for smarter cities.”

 

If you like this, you might be interested in reading the following:

 

New York’s hub for smart cities launches urban challenge

The Urban Future Lab wants to help clean-tech start-ups develop global energy and sustainability solutions for cities

Read more

 

IoT Inc announces technology partnership

The software and solutions provider is launching a programme with North American universities to accelerate product development cycles

Read more

 

Memphis in smart city initiative

This collaboration between city and university is part of the larger nation-level MetroLab network programme

Read more

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grid system with no traffic lights that prioritises traffic flow
The grid system with no traffic lights that prioritises traffic flow
A laser-based system for measuring pedestrian traffic patterns in 2D space
A laser-based system for measuring pedestrian traffic patterns in 2D space
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