Students at Rensselaer design 'smart' parking lot

December 07, 1999

TROY, N.Y. - Students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., have designed a "smart" parking lot system that tells drivers where available spaces are, saving them time and fuel.

This invention is part of Introduction to Engineering Design (IED), a sophomore design course that combines engineering with creativity and innovation.

More than 260 students on 47 teams will demonstrate the projects they have designed in IED on Friday, Dec. 10, at Rensselaer. Student teams are given a theme - this year's theme is "lessening human impact on the environment." Students must design projects "beyond the ordinary" to fit the theme. William Foley, the faculty coordinator for the course, said this year's theme was tougher than usual because students wanted to create things that would not call for significant lifestyle changes. "The students wanted to incorporate people's daily habits into their designs to make them as easy to use as possible," Foley said.

The smart lot system collects data on the number of cars parked by row in a parking lot and displays available parking spots at the lot entrance. By directing autos to a spot, there is less wasted time and fuel cruising the lot, and less air pollution.

Another team will display a smart showerhead that will adjust the water flow based on the location of the bather. When the bather is away from the water, lathering up, flow decreases. As the bather moves back under the water, flow increases. As an added bonus, the bath water is reused for flushing toilets. One team is focusing on windows that provide - or divert - heat. On bright sunny days, windows add heat to the room. During the summer the heat is diverted for heating hot water.

Other IED projects this semester include one-stop waste disposal and recycling appliances for the kitchen that will reduce the need for frequent recycling pickups, a whole-home monitor system that apprises homeowners of abrupt changes in energy use to help reduce power costs, and a bridge warming system that uses an integrated pavement heating coil that prevents the formation of "black ice" and reduces the need for road salt.

Once a working model is built, many students continue to refine and redesign their projects through Inventor's Studio, a class that helps students work toward commercialization of their projects. One student recently received a patent on her project, the first patent issued to an undergraduate student at Rensselaer.

Freshman and sophomore students in Product Design and Innovation will also present class projects. The program is jointly offered by the schools of Engineering, Architecture, and Humanities and Social Sciences. These students will present more than 15 new product ideas that are not limited to the environmental theme.

Creativity, leadership skills, hands-on experience, and entrepreneurship skills are also encouraged in senior-year capstone design courses at Rensselaer.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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