Water Sampling Prototype Wins Grand Prize

UCSB Students Showcase Innovative Tech Designs


Shomik Mukherjee
Opinions Editor

OSMO, a student startup marketing a water sampling device, won the $12,500 grand prize Thursday after six teams of entrepreneurial students competed in the 2016 New Venture Competition finals at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

UCSB’s Technology Management Program hosted the event at Corwin Pavilion on May 19, concluding its 17th yearlong startup contest. Over 300 students joined the competition in the fall — forming over 35 teams — with the finalists each taking home at least one cash prize from the $42,000 award pool.

Four judges — three investors and a veteran entrepreneur — assessed the teams and selected the winners, while various sponsors determined subsidiary awards. During team presentations, audience members cast votes via text message to decide the recipients of two $2,500 people’s choice prizes.

During their presentation, OSMO members described problems currently facing the water sampling industry, such as labor costs and inaccuracy. Sampling mechanisms are used to monitor water quality and measure environmental effects on water conditions.

“From the outset, that may seem like a dry subject,” said Rahul Sangodkar, an OSMO team member and doctoral student in chemical engineering.

One of the challenges Sangodkar emphasized is the labor-intensive nature of pot sampling, a commonly used technique that often involves standing for long hours in water to collect measurements in pots. In addition, current state-of-the-art methods of water measurement carry expensive costs and involve heavy machinery, according to Sangodkar.

OSMO’s water sampling device is a low-cost solution to collecting important data from water. A researcher could leave the device in water for up to years before removing it, at which point the measurements for the entire time period would still be intact. The measurements could also be dated to specific times within that period.

A major selling point of the device is its portability. Kyle Neumann, a graduate student in the interdepartmental graduate program in marine science, displayed a prototype during the group’s presentation. As Sangodkar pointed out to the audience, the entire device can be held in one’s hands and carried around with ease.

Neumann, who first conceptualized the sampling device, spoke to The Bottom Line about the origins of his idea. While researching the impacts of hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — on drinking water three years ago, Neumann noted that there were very few effective ways of studying the effects of industrial waste on water quality.

Since then, he has developed what he calls a better form of measurement.

“This is my life,” Neumann said, laughing. “This is the research that I live and breathe all the time.”

Vibe, a team that presented a sensor device for the visually impaired, won the most prize money of the evening with $15,000. The team won the $7,500 second-place prize, a $2,500 people’s choice award and a $5,000 corporate-sponsored Citrix Impact Award.

Vibe‘s NaviGlove is an ultrasonic sensor designed to assist the visually impaired with navigating their immediate physical environment. The device allows a user to perceive the depth and height of surrounding objects using vibration patterns.

According to Vibe’s presentation, the NaviGlove works in conjunction with a standard cane to signal the presence of objects and beings through haptic technology, which recreates touch by using vibrations. The visually impaired can use the technology to sense their surroundings based on vibration frequency.

Kelsey Judd, a member of Vibe and graduate student in technology management, said the product has received an “inspiring” amount of feedback.

“Seeing people use the device and start to walk around without their canes outside has been uplifting,” Judd said.

The surprise final award of the evening was a “good luck” prize of $5,000. Former UCSB Physics Professor and longtime school donor Virgil Elings awarded the prize through a random draw of silver dollars from his hat. A member of team InGrain, which presented a sustainable method for recycling brewery waste, drew the lucky coin.

“A little bit of good luck goes a long way,” Elings said in light of the results. “And a little bad luck goes a long way, too.”