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Judges inspect gadgets at fair

Young inventors display their latest efforts at USC student innovator showcase, from practical to out of this world.

October 12, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Michael Aherne's invention defeats the gravity of the moon. Kaveh Motamed's deflects the gravity of the Earth.

And tucked between Aherne's home-brew lunar lander and Motamed's do-it-yourself pelvis protector Thursday were three dozen other inventions -- some even more far-out, and others more down-to-earth.

It was USC's first student innovator showcase and fledgling entrepreneurs like 20-year-old business student and basketball guard Ryan Goldston were eager to explain how his computerized jogging shoe uses a diagnostic module to monitor blood pressure, body temperature and blood sugar levels. The sneaker can also be outfitted with a global positioning system that automatically dials 911 if the wearer collapses while exercising.

James Meiners, 18, a freshman aerospace engineering student, designed the EasyBreathe Motorcycle Helmet to protect riders from smog as well as spills.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 28, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Young inventors: An article in the Oct. 12 California section about USC's student innovator showcase misspelled participant Anthony Christodoulou's name as Christadoulo.

"No, I don't ride a motorcycle. But I've heard that breathing the exhaust from cars in front of you is a problem. People from India, where pollution is a real problem, say it'd sell like crazy there," Meiners said of his helmet, which has a fan and a filter. "I got the idea for this driving in rush-hour traffic with my windows down back home in Kansas City."

A few steps away, dental school graduate student Brent Brethers explained how he came up with the idea of using an electronic note pad to allow patients to communicate with dentists when it's impossible to communicate orally.

The idea came after he had practiced a crown preparation procedure on a friend, graduate history student David Rands. But Rands' mouth was clamped open with a dental dam, the anesthetic was starting to wear off and the patient was becoming impatient. "David and I had a dialogue after the procedure," Brethers said.

The most spectacular innovation was the Fully Robotic Autonomous Vehicle -- a four-wheel-drive 2005 Acura equipped with $500,000 worth of sensors and controls. Engineering students Andrew Stiegman, Gautam Nirula, Franklin Haynie and Anthony Christadoulo have spent years assisting science students at Palos Verdes High School in outfitting the car so it operates unmanned.

Robbie Laity, a senior at Palos Verdes, said the donated car is designed for a competition aimed at creating a robotic vehicle for the U.S. military. Batteries in the rear of the car power the controllers, which are run by laser scanners that sense obstacles 100 yards away. Although a burned-out steering controller kept the car parked Thursday, "it drives itself," Laity said.

Logistical problems kept some students' inventions out of the show. An apologetic Chen Liang, a 19-year-old freshman electrical engineering student, explained that his oscillating LED device, which can project a three-dimensional image in the air, didn't arrive from his native Taiwan in time to be displayed. He had photos showing it in action, however.

Architecture student Artem Golestian, 23, showed off a stack of his folding stools. He has 10,000 more of them stored in a Temecula warehouse.

Golestian and a Glendale neighbor, Razmik Saakyan, 48, designed their foot-high Clever Stool so it can be folded to the size of a thin paperback. A set of four stools in a tiny carrying case sells for about $30.

"He's a fisherman and he has a bad knee so he has to be able to sit," Golestian said of Saakyan. "I studied how to file for a patent and we got one, got some investors and found a manufacturer for them in China. We spent about $15,000 on them. We've sold less than 100 of them so far."

Lunar lander builder Aherne, 26, a first-year graduate astronautical engineering student and a member of a 20-member team, said propulsion tanks from paint ball guns were used in the design of the 44-pound hovering platform. It allows developers of such things as laser altimeters, guidance control packages and other avionic devices to test them on Earth while simulating lunar conditions.

The foam-lined Cushiwear pad was designed by Motamed, 21, a senior economics student, and his brother, Arash, after Arash Motamed suffered a bruised backside when he fell while snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain. Arash Motamed, 25, is a USC medical student.

A version of the adjustable, strap-on padding has side panels can be used by older people to prevent hip injuries, Kaveh Motamed said.

Judges picked an interactive game called "Clouds" as the top display. It draws on players' emotional responses as well as the traditional action found in video games. Kellee Santiago, Jenova Chen, Rick Nelson, Nick Clark and Martin Middleton -- engineering and cinematic arts students who teamed up -- shared a $1,000 prize.

Runners-up were engineering students Bahman Elyassi, Nafiseh Rajabbeigi, Muhammad Sahimi, Shamsoddin Mohajerzadeh and Abbasali Khodadadi who designed an automotive oxygen sensor and Jeffery Ashbrook, Kathleen Meek and Steve Avery, engineering, fine arts and business students whose Windfall Fund is designed to turn small charitable donations into large sums of money through long-term investments.

Runner-up teams received $300, while all winners received custom skateboards from a graduate engineering student's own start-up company, said Krisztina Holly, vice provost and executive director for the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation.

The innovators' handiwork was impressive to those visiting the campus for Trojan Parents Weekend.

"This is the right thing for USC to be doing," said Karen Estaba of Woodbury, Conn. Her daughter, Kaite, is a freshman creative writing student. "It doesn't matter who won. They're all winners."

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