The Spring 2020 Innovation Catalysts Grant Recipients

January 29, 2020 | 12:46 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. Ten projects, representing the broad range of pursuits and disciplines in the Jacobs student community, were selected to join the latest grant cohort. 

This semester, the grantees will develop their projects, with the support of funding, mentorship, and other resources at Jacobs Hall and the CITRIS Invention Lab. Read more below about the spring 2020 grant winners.

Ignite Grant Recipients

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

Gear Pump Extruder

Kevin Coulson

While Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most common method of consumer 3D printing available, adapting FDM printing as the dominant additive manufacturing technology has been limited, due to resolution quality and speed. Based on the progress Coulson made last semester addressing this problem with the support of a Spark Grant, Coulson was awarded an Ignite Grant. This semester, he will continue to work on addressing the issue of speed with FDM printing, by designing and prototyping an innovative hotend with an embedded gear pump. Coulson’s gear pump will split the problem of high extrusion forces—the limiting factor in FDM speed—in two. From there, a traditional system will work with the solid filament, pushing it into the heat block, where the gear pump will then move the molten plastic through the nozzle.

Investigation of Auxetic Materials for Vascular Stents

Anshu Agarwal

With coronary artery disease being the most common type of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, the mechanical properties of stents are critical in determining their efficiency as a treatment option. Vascular stents open occluded blood vessels to allow regular blood flow to continue, but, though effective, come with a long list of complications and limitations. An ideal stent has high axial and bending flexibility, properties that metal stents–most commonly used—do not have. Auxetic materials are materials with a negative Poisson’s ratio, meaning they expand in the transverse direction when being pulled in the axial direction. This property is found in our natural blood vessels and tissue, but the current vascular stents on the market do not mimic these properties.

The goal of Agarwal’s project is to use a combination of additive manufacturing, simulations, and mechanical testing to investigate polymeric auxetic material designs that better match the properties of the native tissue. Agarwal will develop new design principles to improve upon the current structural design of stents through exploration and simulation of auxetic design, 3D printing the top-performing geometries, and mechanical testing and analysis.


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

With 80% of Americans living in urban areas, most of us understand that static, permanent trash cans fall short on keeping our environments clean. Overflow is the most obvious problem, but with the privatization of trash collection, up to one dozen trucks have been reported collecting on a single city block, majorly contributing to high CO2 emissions and air pollution. The lack of optimization makes sanitation work monotonous and inefficient.

Continuing the progress made after receiving their first Ignite Grant in fall 2019, Team Miel has been developing a mobile smart trash can named BeeBot, inspired by Wall-E. The project is intended to tackle the problem of trash pollution through the use of mobility and data collection. Mobility allows BeeBot to be its own trash collector and target areas with high foot traffic at optimal times of day. Once full, it can migrate to a larger receptacle via the controller, made aware of its contents. BeeBots continually replace each other, making sure the streets are routinely cleaned. Trash volume can be recorded and included online through a website that the team started developing in the fall of 2019. Their goal is for the BeeBots to be able to pick up trash on their own, after they’ve used data to learn more about optimal placement locations.

NeoMotion GeniusMirror

Okuoma Idah, Danny Kim, Wei-Kai Lin MD, Mathias Vissers

Around 15 million people have a stroke every year, making stroke the leading cause of disability in the US, and second worldwide. Rehabilitation is often inaccessible, unaffordable, and requires a lot of highly trained professionals, for all income demographics. VR and robotic-assisted rehabilitation are now common but do not address the problems with accessibility and affordability for people who really need it.

The NeoMotion GeniusMirror will use its grant to create a highly interactive smart mirror bundled with cameras to capture the 3D position of the person at a very high-precision, bringing stroke rehabilitation to any smartphone. This data will be used in the near future to train AI algorithms to allow for personalized rehabilitation on a smartphone for stroke patients around the globe, making it the first rehabilitation technology that is accessible, affordable and highly scalable for uninsured, rural and poor populations around the world.


Cameron Chaney, Zeke Medley, Noah Saso, Alyssa Yang

Panotech is a smart monitor that rotates to capture a live stream feed of faces in a public space. A robotic surveillance system created with a body, the goal of Panotech is to both humanize and critique the ever-present, growing reality of public surveillance, while bringing awareness and information about surveillance to the public. Panotech incorporates UI design, Raspberry Pi, and Arduino hacks to bring their design probe to life—all programming the group will fine-tune and further develop with their Ignite grant.


Yuval Barash, Victor Lam, Elnaz Tafrihi, Sonia Uppal

While legal policy and regulation aim to enforce “safe distance” guidelines for cars and bicycles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 55,000 cyclists are injured in car accidents every year. Considering how to keep drivers at a safe distance from cyclists—and cyclists aware of the drivers behind them and at their side—the RattlesNeck team created a fully integrated wearable device, designed to help improve safety for both bikers and street runners.

Worn around the neck and resting on the back shoulders, the device uses sonar sensors to detect approaching vehicles, then vibrates to warn cyclists and flashes LED lights to warn drivers simultaneously. This innovative, two-way notification system promises to promote awareness, improve safety, and enforce traffic laws.

Rehab Robo

Pablo Amor, Melissa Keller, Bianca Riello, Todd Roberts, Mruthun Thirumalaisamy

Rehab Robo is a device that can semi-autonomously perform basic stretching and range of motion routines on a paralyzed patient. While the primary use for this device would be for disease state or trauma that induces contractures—the permanent shortening and hardening of muscles, tendons, or tissue—it could also be used in stroke rehabilitation, injury recovery, and pharmaceutical testing. Rehab Robo can help eliminate the need for costly daily physical therapy, and improve at-home therapy, often not covered by insurance. The goal is to have a motorized prototype for in-home therapy and that can collect joint range of motion and stretching force data to be used in the research and improvement of contracture treatments.

Spark Grant Recipients

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 spring with the support of the Innovation Catalysts.

Designs for Un-Making

Katherine Song

While environmental responsibility is a growing consideration to designers today, many of the “eco-friendly” materials available offer little to no mechanical and aesthetic advantages over traditional 3D-printable materials. Because of this, these materials are often the second choice for designers. Even when biodegradable or compostable materials are chosen, their “un-making” is rarely considered, since there are no technological tools to enable designers to engage with the process of “un-making.”  With this, designers remain focused on their final static form, leaving biodegradation inaccessible and restricted to industrial processing facilities only. “Un-making” is an untapped design space that encourages designers to work with biodegradable materials and provide a way for them to consider the sustainability and eventual mortality of their materials. The goals of Designs for Un-Making are to demonstrate 3D-printed biodegradable objects that “un-make” themselves in a way that the designer specifies, and to create a CAD tool plug-in to enable such designs.


Trent Storm

JoySolo is a one-handed gaming controller created to make video games accessible for people with the use of only one hand. The JoySolo was inspired by the Xbox Adaptive by Microsoft, a gaming device with a customizable controller system for people with disabilities, that does not address people with full functional use of only one hand. The JoySolo controller is specifically designed to replicate the functionality of a standard two-handed controller and was designed for use with either the left or right hand, fully replicating the functionality of a two-handed controller. With their Spark grant, Trent will continue prototyping the controller, adding the electrical components and 3D printing the materials required to produce a proof of concept.


Natalie Andersson, Samantha Khieu, Daniel Rozenblit

REN is a fresh take on traditional toilet seat covers, that aims to reduce the environmental impact of public restrooms while maximizing sanitation. Through their research, the team found that toilet seat covers are often difficult to dispense, rip easily, and often slip off. With this in mind, REN decided to redesign the seat cover completely, changing it to a roll dispenser versus a traditional wall dispense. With their Spark grant, the team will continue research and development, working with toilet seat manufacturers and filing for a patent.


You will be able to see the culmination of the grantees’ work at the Jacobs Spring Design Showcase on May 6-7. You can learn more about the Jacobs Institute Innovation Catalysts, including when the fall 2020 application opens later this spring.