Lighting the way after a natural disaster

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State mechanical engineering juniors Emily Burke and Joe Consoli were part of a team that took first place in the 2015 MDX+PSU+US Innovation Challenge.

Six teams participated in this year’s contest, which was held as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week. The challenge charged students with defining a problem or need in one of four categories: green technology, social entrepreneurship, “in-the-home” and transportation; developing and validating a solution concept; and preparing a final three-minute video presentation.

Schreyer Scholars Burke and Consoli, along with Evelina Jasiukajc and Shantanu Mujumdar from Middlesex University, London (MDX), and Tea Mraovic and Nikola Pepur from the University of Split (US), Croatia, proposed Pedal Pack, a device that uses human power to generate light.

Consoli explained, “A person sits on a bike seat, collapses the seat to a comfortable position and pedals. The energy that is generated is stored in a removable battery pack that is then able to charge LED lamps and flashlights.”

One hour of pedaling would result in 12 hours of light; however Burke and Consoli noted that a person would not have to pedal an entire hour to produce enough energy for the pack to work.

Burke said their product would be ideal for countries that have experienced a natural disaster or even developing countries that do not have electricity.

According to the team’s video, each year approximately 26 million people are displaced after natural disasters. Burke said light can often bring hope and encouragement to people in distress.

Prior to the MDX+PSU+US Innovation Challenge, Consoli had not participated in an international team project at Penn State. He observed that one of the most difficult aspects was trying to collaborate with teammates who are in time zones that are five and six hours ahead of the United States. “We created a group message through WhatsApp so that we all could communicate when it was convenient.”

With the event only running three weeks, the team divided and conquered in order to produce the required three-minute video, too. “Everyone on the team had to be in it, so we devised a script and broke it down into three sections. The Middlesex and Split students filmed their sections of the video and we filmed ours last, so we were tasked with editing it. It came together better than I thought it would,” explained Consoli.

Not all the Pedal Pack team members were engineers, said Burke. “It was interesting to see how the students majoring in IT management, marketing and business management would approach this challenge.”

Consoli agreed. “Half of our team was wondering how we would make our idea work and the other half was asking how it might affect a certain population or area.”

The pair said even though they only developed a concept, they learned a lot about what it’s like to be part of an international team, which is something they will both likely encounter in their professions. Burke, who is dual majoring in comparative literature, plans to work in international design and Consoli’s interests lie in sustainable design for a global company.

As part of the first place prize, Burke and Consoli each received $1,000 to travel to an entrepreneurship event of their choice in 2016, sponsored by the Engineering Entrepreneurship program. They have decided to follow in the footsteps of last year’s MDX+PSU Innovation Challenge winners, mechanical engineering seniors Matt Ciarrocca and Matt Malencia, who attended Summer Jam Croatia.

The inaugural MDX+PSU Innovation Challenge was held last year as part of Penn State’s Global Entrepreneurship Week. Liz Kisenwether, assistant professor in the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs and an organizer of the MDX+PSU+US Innovation Challenge at University Park, said, “Summer Jam Croatia is held each year in near the University of Split, so adding University of Split students to the MDX+PSU Innovation Challenge was a natural extension.”

Last Updated December 14, 2015