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Engineering program’s submersible device moves toward commercialization

Engineering program’s submersible device moves toward commercialization

Faculty, staff and students in WKU’s Department of Engineering are working to take a remotely operated submersible project to a new level.

The portable underwater device was developed in 2008 for the Warren County Rescue Squad and remains in use today. However, staff engineer Ron Rizzo and electrical engineering faculty member Stacy Wilson have continued their efforts to commercialize a more cost-efficient model that could be used for bridge inspections, cave exploration, troubleshooting water and sewer systems, and other research activities.

“From that original concept, the development of a newer, cheaper, smaller submersible came from it,” Rizzo said.

Thanks to a grant from the Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation and an award from the Buck$ for Bright Ideas program, eight students are designing and building equipment, developing software and testing devices at the Complex for Engineering and Biological Sciences’ McConnell Laboratory.

“We’ve been very fortunate with the commercialization grant to employ students in all three engineering disciplines who are getting hands-on experience,” Rizzo said.

The team also includes students in entrepreneurship, marketing and computer sciences.

The team is developing three models of the submersible – a basic model that can be operated with a laptop or desktop computer; a pro model that includes a case that houses a 7-inch monitor, a joystick to maneuver the device, a battery; and an elite model that includes a larger monitor and high-definition video.

Among the changes to the device since 2008 include LED light clusters instead of halogen lamps to conserve power and more cost efficient thrusters that WKU students are assisting to develop.

As part of the commercialization grant, the WKU group has until April 1 to design, develop and test the device and have it ready to commercialize, Rizzo said. “I’m confident we will meet that deadline,” he said.

“They expect us to develop a business plan,” Dr. Wilson said, “and so when we get to the end of the funding phase, we’ll be able to say we’re going to launch a business.”

The award from the Buck$ for Bright Ideas contest, sponsored by the Central Region Innovation and Commercialization Center, is providing resources for patent searches, business plan development and marketing ideas, Rizzo said.

And that award has opened the door for the possibility that the company could be housed at the facility on Nashville Road.

Students working on the project team include: Ben Aroh, an entrepreneurship major from Louisville; Steven Buchanan, a mechanical engineering major from Morganfield; Nick Burnett, a marketing major from Louisville; Clayton Cook, a civil engineering major from Owenton; Hannah Nicks, an electrical engineering major from Bowling Green; Richard Pape, an electrical engineering major from Morgantown; Steven Pape, a mechanical engineering major from Morgantown; Jenna Wilson, an electrical engineering major from Rockfield; and Kris Unnikannan, a computer science major from Dubai.

Contact: Ron Rizzo, (270) 745-8804.

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 Last Modified 9/24/14