October 11, 2019 | 12:31 pm

The Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalysts, made possible by the Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation, is a grant program that helps Berkeley’s student innovators unlock potential in their projects. This fall, eleven diverse and creative projects were selected by the Jacobs student advisory board and leadership team to be a part of the grant program. During the fall semester, grant winners will work on their projects with the support of funding, mentorship, and other resources at Jacobs Hall and the CITRIS Invention Lab. Read more below about the fall 2019 cohort.


Ignite grants help push projects to the next stage, by providing support for students to refine existing prototypes with demonstrated potential for impact. Eight Ignite projects will draw upon funding (up to $2000) and other grant resources to develop their projects further.

Collective Obscura 

Eleni Oikonomaki & Bryan Truitt

Though surveillance technologies have become ubiquitous in modern society and have some benefits, they can also be abused. Oikonomaki and Truitt are using fashion to explore these complex issues, through crafting dynamic garments and accessories that undermine systems of surveillance and identification. Their project began in the New Media course Critical Making, taught by Professor Eric Paulos. For their final course project, they produced a collection of three wearables, each using a different strategy of avoiding facial recognition. The pair plans to use their grant to develop at least one new type of anti-facial recognition wearable and an open source guideline for testing anti-facial recognition technologies.


Timothy Delille

The vast majority of construction site accidents happen when on-foot workers are injured by heavy machinery. Although most machines have cameras and there are worksite safety policies about maintaining a minimum distance from machinery, in practice, these technologies and policies are not always heeded. At a recent hackathon sponsored by France’s leading construction company, Delille proposed a device to reduce the occurrence of construction site accidents. His solution consists of two cameras with a video feed that is instantly and locally processed to detect if a worker is in a danger zone. To avoid triggering the alarm too often–which would desensitize the machine driver to actual emergencies–the system only sounds an alarm when the on-foot worker is not paying attention and/or is in an immediate danger. Delille will use his Ignite grant to develop a second prototype of his project.

Magical Musical Mat 

Rachel Chen & Arianna Ngoc Ninh

Chen and Ninh aim to facilitate autistic students’ participation in the classroom by using touch and music for communication, in a manner that supports their sensory and motoric needs. Their project, Magical Musical Mat, is an interactive musical mat that amplifies physical touch between people through sound, thus providing learning accessibility to students who may have difficulty in traditional classrooms. When participants step onto the mat and explore different types of touch interactions together (e.g., holding hands or high-fives), capacitive sensors trigger musical sounds. The project originated as a final project in Professor Kimiko Ryokai’s course New Media C262 Tangible User Interfaces. After the course ended, Chen and Ninh continued working on their project. This fall, they will create a third prototype and test it at a local autism clinic in San Francisco, to get feedback from students, teachers, and therapists. They aim to create a more robust and usable prototype, as well as make the project open-source.


Ryan Qiao & Sara Wang

Memorology originated as a final project in COMPSCI 160 User Interface Design and Development and aims to help seniors affected by Alzheimer’s disease, which progressively deteriorates memory and other mental functions. People with Alzheimer’s who wish to record their memories before they slip away can struggle with doing so on paper, due to symptoms of the disease and aging. Qiao and Wang’s proposed solution is a tangible, interactive audio photo album that helps seniors to record, reconstruct, and revisit the stories of their lives and share those stories with their loved ones; this multi-modal experience has been shown by research to be beneficial for people struggling with dementia. The team will spend the fall semester developing a second prototype of their project, with particular focus on refining the look and feel of the physical photo album, slimming down the project by using a Raspberry Pi instead of a computer, and creating a corresponding digital interface for the album.


Gisella Esparza, Burkhard Lehmann, Jasper Rowan, Jonathan Watkins, & Steven Wilson

Team Miel’s BeeBot is a mobile smart trash-can, designed to minimize urban trash pollution. It improves upon the standard method for trash collection, weekly pickups by trucks along fixed routes, through its mobility and data collection. BeeBot’s mobility means it can migrate to a larger receptacle when it is full and have its place taken by an empty BeeBot. The data they collect about trash disposal in different areas would also inform optimal placements for the BeeBots. The project originated in the Maker Design Studio class in the Transfer Pre-Engineering Program (T-PREP) in summer 2019. In only two weeks, the team brought their concept from idea to prototype. The Ignite grant will allow Miel to use more advanced materials in the second BeeBot prototype, as well as add mechanical arms for remote control litter pickup and adding a database to track project performance.

Parametric Light for All 

Andrew McCormack

With his Ignite project, McCormack tackles the question, “How do we find a more accessible, affordable, and sustainable way for people to shape their pre-existing light?” He aims to help people like renters, who may not be happy with the standard lighting in their apartments, but also do not have the funds to buy and install luxury lighting fixtures for a temporary home. McCormack proposes using inexpensive materials, like cardboard and PLA, and digital fabrication technology, like laser cutting and 3D printing, to create easily transportable, assemblable, and installable light shades. DIY home decorators can order different kits à la carte, per their lighting needs, that can be shipped to their home. McCormack will spend the fall semester developing different lighting product models as well as gathering feedback through user testing and market research.

PiE on the Road 

Ashley Byrne, Conor Mora, Kirsten Nguyen, & Eric Ran

There are many barriers to students in the United States to accessing a robotics education, including limitations in transportation, teachers, or material resources. PiE on the Road, a project run the student outreach club Pioneers in Engineering (PiE), lowers these barriers by offering a portable, interactive, instructive introductory robotics kit and curriculum. The current PiE on the Road kit is in its third year of development, but its deployment has been limited to select local high schools, as PiE members must travel to schools to help troubleshoot its mechanical shortcomings. PiE will use their Ignite grant to prototype a higher quality and programmable robotics kit that is reliable enough to be shippable. They envision a kit that teachers and students can use, regardless of their robotics experience, access to supplies, or geographic location.


Annalise Kamegawa & Hailey Windsor

Kamegawa and Windsor aim to develop inclusive anatomical models for use in sex education workshops for the blind and visually impared (BVI) community. The idea for the project was initially proposed by Laura Millar, a blind sex educator and Bay Area community organizer. While project focuses on the limited availability of sex education tools for BVI students, it also has potential to improve sex education for sighted students, which often defaults to images instead of engaging other senses. Kamegawa and Windsor created several initial prototypes for their project during a cross-border collaboration between the CITRIS Invention Lab and Tecnológico de Monterrey, and will continue developing them this semester. Their ultimate goal is to create tools that educators can cheaply and easily fabricate and provides maximum learning to BVI students. The students also envision developing a diverse sample of models that reference the spectrum of male, female, and intersex anatomy.


Spark grants provide up to $500, as well as other resources, for early-stage projects or experimental concepts. Three creative ideas will come to life this semester with the support of the Innovation Catalysts.


Naveen Durvasula, Ryan Mei, Pedro Pachua, & Kamyar Salahi

During a group dinner one evening, members of the Aerostry team discussed the major devastation wreaked by a recent wildfire. Wondering how fires can grow out of control before being detected, they discovered that expensive, ineffective tools prevent frequent and accurate airborne substance measurement, which in turn impedes effective early-warning systems. Aerostry proposes an instantaneous large-scale sensing and analytics to track and predict the movement of airborne substances, by using an independent mesh network of sensor modules that can be easily deployed to provide real-time data. The team envisions Aerostry as a tool that could be used by governments, businesses, and citizens alike, and track a wide range of airborne particulates that affect public health. They will spend this semester developing their first prototype.

Gear Pump 3D Printer Extruder 

Kevin Coulson

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most commonly seen form of consumer 3D printing available. Though the process has many advantages, there are two main limiting factors to wider adoption of FDM printing: its resolution and speed. This project seeks to primarily address the latter. Coulson plans to design and integrate an external gear pump extruder within the heat block of a 3D printer hotend, in order to improve deposition speed and precision. He will use his Spark grant to develop an initial prototype of his project, based on the CAD models and component pieces that he has already developed.


Janaki Vivrekar

Rain can often lead to solitude and people withdrawing to seek shelter indoors. Vivrekar, however, believes that there is also a certain charm to rain and is interested in how to harness it to bring people together outdoors. Her goal is to use material primitives and electronic technology to create a sensory public spectacle, demonstration, or monument that changes in a meaningful way when it rains and encourages engagement from passerby. She will use her grant to explore different inspirations, materials, and sensory stimuli, with the goal of developing her idea into an interactive experience by the end of the semester.