- By Bethany Halford and Jane Rushmore
Forget skiing, figure skating, and all the other "easy" winter
sports. Angelo Suriano wants to mush.
Suriano has his sights set on the 2005 Iditarod dogsled
race, but a spinal cord injury in 1986 left him without full use of
the lower half of his body. So Suriano turned to nearby Clarkson University
and its emerging rehabilitation engineering program to help him customize
a dogsled that could take him and his 16-dog team through the Iditarod's
grueling 1,100 miles of ice and snow.
Volunteering to take on the challenge, engineering graduate
student Dustin Crandall got together with Leslie Russek, an assistant
professor of physical therapy. Their project is an informal offshoot
of the rehab engineering program—a collaboration between Clarkson's
engineering and physical therapy departments, whose projects include
an off-road wheelchair and an electronic walking stick for the blind.
While Suriano has some use of his legs and can stand
for periods of time, he needs a seat for when he gets tired. And the
sled's handlebar has to be reinforced so that it can support
his weight when he stands. Suriano and Crandall worked together on
the design. "I tell him what I need, and he gives me ideas," says
" It's not a real hard problem," says
Crandall of the sled's modifications, "but it's time-consuming." Crandall
spends about 10 hours a week working on the project, but modestly shrugs
off any praise for his volunteer efforts, "It was just an opportunity
to do a practical problem and help somebody."
Russek—who also holds a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering—says
that Crandall's attitude reflects that of many students working
on the rehab engineering projects. "They know that there's
a real person out there counting on them to do the best that they can."
This winter Suriano plans to compete in two qualifying
races—a 60-mile race in Sandwich Notch, N.H., and the 250-mile
CanAm250 in Fort Kent, Maine. To qualify for the Iditarod, Suriano
will have to complete the Sandwich Notch race and finish in the top
70 percent of the CanAm250. "I have a lot of work to do between
now and then," says Suriano reflecting on the Iditarod, "But
if I don't make it in 2005, then 2007."
Trash can. Upside down dustbin. Giant red barrel—that's
how the media described some hot new "artwork" at Washington
University in St. Louis. But they're not talking about a provocative
exhibit—they're talking about the artist.
Lewis the Robotic Photographer cruises conferences,
parties, and receptions snapping photos like a cross between Robert
Mapplethorpe and R2-D2. The robot is the brainchild of Cindy Grimm
and Bill Smart, assistant professors in the department of computer
science and engineering. The husband-and-wife professors share lab
space and wanted to collaborate on a project that would get more students
interested in doing research in their labs.
The main challenge of making Lewis work is coordinating
a lot of different computer programs—things like mapping technology,
movement, and photographic composition. " There are 10,000 things
you have to get working together to make it interesting," says
Grimm. Zachary Byers, who worked with fellow undergraduate Michael
Dixon on the project, agrees: "When you try to make a robot accomplish
something in the real world it can be difficult."
To take a photo, Lewis scans the room for human skin.
Once the robot identifies a group of people, it tries to figure out
where their faces are and then takes a picture using some basic rules
of composition. Byers says that because running the 300-pound robot
into people "is not how you make friends," Lewis uses a
complicated navigation system that incorporates laser rangefinders
and pinging sonar sensors. According to Smart, Lewis has taken about
4,000 pictures so far—and a surprising number of them are quite
good, "It's on the level of someone like me running around
Smart and Grimm say that Lewis has brought a lot of
student attention to robotic work. Smart thinks part of the popularity
is due to the project's simple aim. "I can explain it to
my mother and she understands it and thinks it's cool," he
says. But both professors attribute project's success to Byers
and Dixon: "Zach and Michael were really responsible for how
good the system is," says Smart. "They really have done
90 percent of the coding on this," adds Grimm.
Grimm thinks the media attention—Lewis has been
featured in Wired and on CNN.com—has done a lot to get students
interested. Even homegrown hip-hop star Nelly gave the robot some "street
cred" when he invited Lewis to photograph his birthday party.
Grimm says she doesn't really know who Nelly is, but adds, "Our
stature on campus, I think, has gone up."
Students at the University of Maryland–College
Park now have a chance to become CEOs—before they even get their
bachelor's degree. That's because of the new Hinman Campus
Entrepreneurship Opportunities (CEOs) program that enables students
to start up their own companies right from their campus dorm rooms.
William Destler, UM's provost and a former dean of engineering,
says that the inspiration for the program came from Brian Hinman, a
1982 UM graduate in electrical engineering. "During one of our
discussions, (Hinman) mentioned he would have stayed in Maryland for
graduate school if UM had been more supportive of entrepreneurial endeavors," Destler
says. "So I decided to start from the ground up and build a foundation
in the undergraduate department to support entrepreneurs."
To show his support, Hinman—who launched three
of his own companies: PictureTel Corp., Polycom Inc., and 2Wire Inc.—funded
the program with a donation of $2.5 million. Those funds sponsor seminars,
mentoring services, and boot camps to help students make contacts in
the business world. The funds also paid for new high-tech dorms for
the student CEOs, complete with wireless technology, videoconferencing,
computer labs, and a plush conference room with cherrywood tables and
leather chairs. The competitive program accepts only about half of
the students who apply. Those students must maintain a 3.0 GPA and
write an essay describing their business ideas. Of the 108 students
currently in the program, about a third are engineers, a third are
business majors, and a third represent a range of other majors. Sandeep
Mehta, a senior majoring in computer engineering, joined the program
last year. "I joined because I wanted to know how to take an
idea from the lab to the marketplace," says Mehta. He teamed
up with business major Jason Volk to start a wireless services company
called Alertus Technologies.
Working over the summer, the Mehta and Volk won a $77,000
grant from the Maryland Institute Partnerships. The organization generally
awards grants to commercialize technology from existing companies—so
it was quite a coup for the undergrads to receive one. The corporate
wunderkinds attribute their success to the CEO program. "The
number one reason we are in this position is because of the CEO program," Mehta
says. "Apart from the material assets of the dorm, it's
the energy there. It's common to pass students in the hall discussing
ideas and business plans. And we have industry speakers talking with
us every week, telling us how they got started, what mistakes they
made, and we learn from their experiences and their mistakes."
Bethany Halford is an associate editor at Prism
She can be reached at email@example.com.
is a freelance writer based in Buffalo, N.Y.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.