Students Practice Rapid Prototyping in Multidisciplinary Product Course

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From a better farmers’ market shopping experience to high-tech feminine care, students in the Managing New Product Design course this semester developed realizable market solutions to real-world consumer needs.

After building a product from concept generation to prototype during the 15-week course, students showed off their efforts at an afternoon tradeshow Dec. 15 in the Bank of America Forum.

Professionals from such firms as Google, 44 Energy Technologies, Parc, and Aditi Rao Design added their insights by volunteering as judges and coaches for the experiential learning course, which draws students from across campus, including the College of Engineering and School of Information. The course is taught by Haas Lecturer Jonathan Propp and Alice Agogino, the Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Three of the teams at the Trade Show travel from Autonomous University of Mexico City, where they took a similar course and worked in parallel with three UC Berkeley teams.

“At the end of the semester we conduct a ‘lessons learned’ exercise with the class. The greatest learning experience for students this year was working in multifunctional teams and conducting in-depth design research with potential customers and potential users,” says Agogino. “We don’t want the students to create a polished prototype of a product no one wants. Rather we want them to focus on creating a conceptual prototype for a compelling product that could go to market.”

Adds Propp, “You can see that teams benefit from having that mix of business skills and engineering skills. They will have to work with people from different disciplines after graduation. This really does simulate the product development environment in industry.”

Hugo De Blauwe and Swapnil Dixit, both MBA 14, collaborated with chemical and mechanical engineers to develop IntelliCrop, a mobile app that runs on a tablet and automates the collection of crop data into a single source.

Explaining the team’s decision to focus on agriculture, De Blauwe called feeding a growing world population on finite land resources “one of the biggest issues the planet faces.”

IntelliCrop helps farmers manage their time and resources by gathering information on individual plots. At the touch of the screen, farmers can review either current conditions or forecasts that affect the growth of different crops.

The team got its idea after hearing from a Sacramento nut farmer who wards off winter frost by renting six helicopters that he flies throughout the night over his fields. The circulation of the propellers controls the air temperature, preserving the crop yield, but at a tremendous cost of fuel and person hours. The team quickly determined that there had to be a more efficient way to gather information and manage risk in the field by providing early real-time detection of environmental problems and suggesting appropriate action. It also encourages cross-collaboration between farmers to develop collective solutions for farming communities facing similar weather conditions

Similarly, Sarah Walker, Stephanie Curran, Kathryn Fritts, and Bernice Wong, all MBA 14, with Yilin Zhang from the Goldman School of Public Policy, talked to potential customers to come up with a very different kind of tech product.

For their project, Care Down There, they addressed the common anxieties women experience with menstruation. After interviewing 26 women, the team found that the trustworthiness of feminine hygiene products was a frequently shared concern and set about researching a market solution.

The team generated 80 concepts, weighing each against the identified needs, before developing its prototype—a tampon with a microchip that sends a phone message when near to needing replacement. Production costs would need to be less than 10 cents per chip to be marketable, the team estimated.

The team that drew the highest rating from judges created a product called Smart Glove, a sensor-based tracking device in an exercise glove that provides weight lifting feedback similar to that of a personal trainer. “Great product! Professional, marketable, useful,” one judge wrote.

Brad Edgar, BS 90, PhD 97, CEO of 44 Energy Technologies, served as both a judge for the trade show and coach for team Garden Gate, which designed a compartmentalized tote bag to improve shopping at farmers’ markets. Edgar was impressed by the thorough market research demonstrated across the board by teams. Notes Edgar, “Students got in touch with customers as real people.”

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