IST class works with industry leaders to pioneer world's first smart snowboard

Jessica Hallman
May 07, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Students in the College of Information Sciences and Technology could change the future of a global sport, thanks to a collaboration with industry leaders.

Along with innovative snowboard and ski manufacturing company Gilson, and world leader in power products and piezo-based actuators, sensors and devices Qortek, students in Steve Haynes’ IST 412 class are pioneering the software to support the world’s first “smart” snowboard. Powered exclusively by renewable energy, embedded sensors will measure speed, force, location, temperature and barometric pressure. The IST students’ objective is to identify and design use cases, and to develop applications to bring this data to life.

“The student groups have been developing impressive solutions to the software needs,” said Nick Gilson, CEO of Gilson. “We have the hardware in fully functioning form, and the students are bridging the gap between the technology and the user.”

As part of a semester-long project, students have worked with snowboarders to identify ways that data gathered from a board can be made useful in practice. Their ideas have included basic run data to capture and store a snowboarder’s exact distance and speed; social media applications that would allow a snowboarder to share pictures and data with friends; a leaderboard that would show users how their runs compare with others’; and safety applications, such as triggering an emergency signal after an impact followed by a period of inactivity. Students presented their prototypes to Gilson and Qortek officials on April 24.

“The use cases we are working on will set the foundation for the future application,” said Emily Schmittle, a senior majoring in information sciences and technology and student in the course.

“This technology will integrate systems and collect meaningful data, allowing riders and skiers to push the boundaries further,” added Gilson.

As Gilson and Qortek continue developing the hardware, they plan to add additional sensors to the board to capture even more data about a user’s run. The embedded technology is superior to current models that are instead connected to a snowboarder’s boots or bindings.

“We’re trying to enhance the snowboarding experience,” said Haynes, associate teaching professor of IST. “With additional sensors on the board, we hope to be able to get a picture of the snowboarder’s performance and form, and provide advice for how to improve.”

“For novice snowboarders, this information could help them improve,” added Schmittle. “For advanced snowboarders, this could provide them with an edge over their competition.”

This isn’t the first time that Gilson has collaborated with Penn State to help advance its product line. According to Jeff Fortin, associate vice president for research and director of industrial partnerships at Penn State, the University's Materials Characterization Lab in the Materials Research Institute previously worked with Gilson  to develop materials and manufacturing-related solutions for their products.

When Gilson and Qortek approached Fortin last fall seeking support in developing an application for their snowboard hardware innovation, Fortin worked with Andrew Sears, dean of the College of IST, to match them with Haynes' “Engineering of Complex Software Systems” course.

Steve Dynan, vice president of business development for Qortek, explained the advantages of having innovative students participate in the project, including their age and daily experience with social media, as well as the large number of students contributing creative flow to the project, with 49 students in the class.

“These advantages are critical to achieving the maximum potential of the group, while providing the baseline for what we believe will become the viral snowboard app of the future,” he said.

Fortin added that the partnership also strongly impacts the participating students.

"There are so many benefits to this type of collaboration," he noted. "Having a real world project is huge for the students. They get to interact with the company, understand their business needs, and work on a project with real constraints. This is the best type of project that a student can have."

Students in the course agree.

“These kinds of real-world projects look great on a resume and are great conversation pieces during interviews,” said Aaron Stricker, a senior majoring in information sciences and technology and a student in the course. “I feel like having this kind of exposure better prepares us for working in our various industries.”

“My major takeaway from this project is the importance of self-learning,” added Schmittle. “Technology is always changing; we’ll always be learning even after we’re no longer students.”

According to Fortin, this is the first industry partnership that his office has helped to facilitate with IST, but there are hopes that it inspires more collaborations with the college in the future, particularly through the University’s Invent Penn State initiative.

“One of President Barron’s goals is to help support faculty, staff and students take their ideas to market. And, as a land-grant university, part of the reason we’re here is to help our local companies,” he added of Gilson and Qortek, both Pennsylvania-based companies.

Gilson and Qortek plan to hire two student interns from the class to move the project forward over the summer, integrating the creative and foundational designs into a single app that will be further refined to achieve a beta app for release prior to the next snowboarding season.

“Having innovative students at Penn State working on this project is a crucial element to the project’s success,” said Gilson. “Figuring out the best path isn’t obvious; it requires innovative thinking and a total creative mindset.”

  • Aaron Stricker - IST 412

    Aaron Stricker demonstrates his group's mobile application, which includes a SnapChat filter that makes the user appear to be wearing a snowboarding helmet and goggles. Students in his IST 412 class developed use cases and prototypes of mobile applications for the world's first "smart" snowboard, created by industry leaders Gilson and Qortek.

    IMAGE: Jessica Hallman
  • Andy Lam - IST 412

    Andy Lam (front left) shows his group's proposed use case and mobile application to Qortek representatives Mike Bradley and Steve Dynan. Students in his IST 412 class developed use cases and prototypes of mobile applications for the world's first "smart" snowboard, created by industry leaders Gilson and Qortek.

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated May 09, 2018