• Students from MIT, the Rhode Island School of Design and United Technologies Corp. worked in teams to develop new product prototypes in the MIT course Product Design and Development. One such prototype is the Xcart, shown above with one of its creators, Antoine Guivarch from MIT's Technology and Policy Program. The environmentally friendly "shopping scooter" comes complete with an attached collapsible basket that can be used to transport groceries.

    Photo courtesy / the Xcart team

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MIT, RISD and United Technologies Corp. students create new product prototypes

MIT graduate students were joined by seniors from the Rhode Island School of Design and employees of United Technologies Corp. for the final presentation of the prototypes they had created together in Product Design and Development, an interdisciplinary course offered through Sloan, the School of Engineering and the Engineering Systems Division.

More than 200 well-wishers looked on as the 13 teams demonstrated the new product prototypes, the culmination of 15 weeks of hard work. An enthusiastic group of fellow students, spouses, professors, industry executives and venture capitalists--some of whom have been returning for years just to see the annual unveiling--weren't disappointed with the day-long show, held Saturday, May 11 in Bartos Theater.

The course offered two sections: one for MIT graduate students in management and engineering and seniors from the Rhode Island School of Design majoring in industrial design. Teams in this section consisted of a mix of five of students from the three areas. The second section was for distance-learning students from United Technologies Corp., and students of MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing Program and Systems Design and Management Program, who were taking this course as part of their requirements for a certificate program offered by MIT.

"Effective product development is an interdisciplinary process, so it's important when teaching it to provide an interdisciplinary setting where students from various backgrounds can experience the process," said Steven Eppinger, the General Motors LFM Professor of Management Science and Engineering Systems and co-director of LFM-SDM. Eppinger is the lead faculty member for the course.

Each team's presentation, which ranged from the humorous to the dramatic, lasted 25 minutes and included a product overview video and a live demonstration of the prototype. The students talked about their key product design concepts and development concerns, such as customer needs, industrial design, intellectual property and supply chain.

James G. Hannoosh (Ph.D. 1975), a principal of American Bailey Venture, a private equity firm in Stanford, Conn., served on the judging panel. "Some of these students did more in three months with a thousand dollars than some companies I've seen who've worked for two years with two million dollars," he observed.


"Stand N Plant," by the Garden Mate team, is a hydraulically powered bulb planter that enables gardeners to work without having to bend or kneel. Estimated retail price: $50.

The "Bag Pipe," a telescoping tube with swivel-mount hooks that fits to the width of almost any vehicle, secures plastic grocery bags and their contents during acceleration, turning and sudden braking. The Bag Pipe was developed by a team of engineers from United Technologies Corp. that predicts its product could sell for $24.95.

The "Segway��������� Docking Station," developed for U.S. Postal Service workers who will use the Segway scooter to make deliveries, is a traditional mail storage/transfer box modified with an internal retractable ramp that stores and recharges one scooter. (The team's slogan was "thinking inside the box.") Team members, several of whom are students in the Leaders for Manufacturing program, consulted on the design with LFM alumnus Doug Field (S.M. 1992), Segway's vice president of product design. Segway station kits would sell for about $300 and allow a postal service mechanic to refurbish a surplus transfer box into a Segway station.

The "Xcart" was targeted for professionals ages 20 to 35 who live within three miles of a supermarket. It would be marketed as an environmentally friendly shopping scooter that folds for storage and comes with an attached collapsible basket for transporting groceries. Projected cost is $225.

Besides Eppinger, the faculty members involved are Professor Thomas Roemer of Sloan; Clifford Whitcomb, a senior lecturer in LFM; Ali Yassine and Daniel Whitney, research scientists in the Center for Technology, Policy and Industry; and Matthew Kressy of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Each team received $1,000 to build its prototype. Funding was provided by the schools involved and the Lemelson Foundation and General Motors Corp.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 22, 2002.

Topics: Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Students


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