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Student Entrepreneurship in Aerospace and Healthcare Takes Flight in Day One of Conrad Challenge Innovation Summit

The 2020 Innovation Summit, going virtual for the first time, brings together teams from nine countries to present their inventions in six categories

The Conrad Challenge launched its 2020 Innovation Summit today, going virtual for the first time. The year-long annual event that inspires students to combine innovation and entrepreneurship to address some of the most pressing global challenges lived out its mission by responding quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting gears to produce an engaging online experience. The Virtual Innovation Summit is the culmination of the year’s efforts for 37 international finalist teams from nine different countries who emerged from more than 600 teams that initially entered the Challenge starting in August 2019.

The 2020 Virtual Innovation Summit features a variety of segments available to all finalist teams, coaches, judges, sponsors, and partners. The offerings include an opening session, Cosmic Chats with sponsors, special sessions with the Alumni Leadership Council (ALC), and an award ceremony. Also, the Summit features Q&A sessions between the finalist teams and an expert panel of judges. All Q&A sessions are conducted live in 15-minute timed video chat sessions. After a brief pitch session, the finalist groups switch over to a video panel discussion to provide more detailed information through the carefully monitored Q&A setup.

The categories of Aerospace & Aviation and Health & Nutrition were the early focus of day one. Pitches from the Aerospace & Aviation teams of Astronyx, Dust-Off, EcoAero, Etiam, and JSSR Systems took center stage, as did AlgaeAid, ChlamyHEALTH, HealWear, NeoSigno, and PiezoPace in the Health & Nutrition category.

Aerospace & Aviation

The Aerospace & Aviation category kicked off with team Etiam, whose members come from Singapore, United Kingdom, and Texas. In response to recent mining tragedies like the one in Chile, the team chose to create a cost-effective asteroid mining system that will bring rare minerals and materials back to Earth from space. The panel discussed the interesting logistics involved in using drones to mine asteroids and the required time and costs. As one member of Team Etium noted, “We will have multiple drones working in the asteroid belt, and this will reduce our timeline significantly compared to our competitors. The entire mining process can be accomplished in as little as one year, depending on the conditions and type of asteroid. This will inherently reduce risk because, in space, time is a very important resource, and the more you spend inside the belt, the more you expose the craft to risk.”

Astronyx followed with their product, Astratum, a bed for astronauts designed to retain astronaut muscle mass, healthy blood flow, and prevent vision deterioration. One student innovator responded to a question on eye health circulation by stating, “it’s about too much fluid building up and creating pressure and allowing movement throughout the body.” A teammate added helpful thoughts on expanding the market use of the mattress in healthcare to combat bedsores and other issues.

EcoAero out of Illinois followed with Airlift, a versatile drone that conforms to the weight of its payload using retractable wings and a tiltrotor feature. The team offers solutions to the most significant issue facing drones―battery life. After many months of research, they found a solid market for increasing flight time for commercial drones. 

Much to the delight of the Q&A panel, Nancy Conrad, Founding Chairman of the Conrad Foundation, made an appearance at the beginning of the JSSR Systems presentation. Team JSSR out of North Carolina have created Astrofilter, a self-cleaning filter designed to clean ventilation systems aboard spacecraft. The team developed a cross-market approach that not only addresses the importance of air filtration on spacecraft but also household use. In addition to saving energy, high tech filtration allows for the mitigation of health risks associated with poor air quality.

A JSSR Systems student innovator gave a concise explanation in response to a judge’s question about configuration issues onboard a spacecraft: “When we were designing Astrofilter, we wanted to make sure that it was easily accessible and something that wouldn’t require any reconfiguration. We were using the ISS as our basis. Air flows through the ventilation system through the inter-module ventilation (IMV) ports. That is where we placed Astrofilter. When you need to replace the canisters, you simply twist them off and they are easily accessible to astronauts.”

Ending the pitch session are the two sisters who created Dust-Off, positively charged paint consisting of certain elements with low electron binding energies that will keep Moonwalkers’ suits from catching Lunar dust. Together they are developing a solution to mitigating and eliminating dust accumulation on equipment and personnel.

Health & Nutrition 

The second category this morning, Health & Nutrition, featured a variety of exciting teams, including AlgaeAid, a wound dressing made from various antibiotics found in species of algae, fungi, and trees. The team spoke about the choice of using Inulin and working in collaboration with already existing labs. One team member mentioned a smart strategy of entering license agreements with larger companies to get into the market. Along with algae-related developments, the ChlamyHEALTH team has developed a novel selenoprotein injection formulated from selenoproteins harvested from a widely-available algae Chlamydomonas Reinhardti.

HealWear, out of North Carolina, offers a wearable biomechanical brace, or sleeve, that would provide useful data during the recovery process for knee injuries. Team NeoSigno is producing a multipurpose, wearable, robotic, glove-like device designed to help people learn sign language through tactile signals.

Adding to the prosthetics category, PiezoPace has developed motorized silicone, piezoelectric sleeves that provide large amounts of voltage, which can be used to power a prosthetic device. Unlike other products, PiezoPace has managed to use interesting forms of energy harvesting in a market that has become stagnated. The team left the judges impressed by the creative concepts in an area that is directly affecting patient care. As one of the team’s impressive innovators explains, “Silicone sleeves are the most popular sleeves today. We are essentially creating our own version of it. The sleeve in terms of wearability remains unaffected. It just has a lot more functionality and increases a patient’s quality of life to a large degree.”

A look ahead at Thursday’s schedule

Looking ahead to Thursday’s activities, there will be continued pitches and Q&A in the areas of Cyber-Tech, and Energy & Environment from 9:05 – 11:05 am ET. Cosmic Chat from 12:30 – 1:30 pm ET., as well as SMART pitches occurring between 1:45 – 3:25 pm ET. Follow event activities on the Conrad Challenge YouTube channel.

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