Polytechnic engineers field popular exhibits at Emerge 2016

Speeding through Wells Fargo Arena in a jet pack and testing mental and physical agility in a Rube Goldberg-style challenge were two of the most popular interactive attractions at the ASU Emerge 2016 festival – and both came from engineering labs at the Polytechnic School.

Professor Tom Sugar and Associate Professor Sangram Redkar and their students exhibited innovations from the Human Machine Integration Lab, including the Pogo Suit, which is designed to diminish the physical toll of a backpack weighing up to 70 lbs., and the Spider Man Suit, which uses a vacuum pump and soft foam material cups to create a near air-tight seal between the device and a wall, allowing the user to scale just about any surface. Guests of the event were able to go for a jog across the Arena wearing a Jet Pack, a device designed to enable soldiers to run a four-minute mile. Small children tried on the suit without activating the power module, but felt they were able to run faster, nonetheless.

The Rube Goldberg-inspired Escape Challenge Room was born during a collaborative effort between ASU athletes and students in the National Science Foundation’s Broadening the Reach of Engineering through Community Engagement (BRECE) Scholars Program.  A two-day brainstorming workshop at the STEAM Labs at The Polytechnic School led to the innovative attraction, according to Assistant Professor Shawn Jordan, who noted that some of the athletes were also engineers.

“Initially, the students discussed what types of activities would lend themselves to an escape challenge,” Jordan explained. “When it was decided that each wall of the escape room should have a different project, the group broke up into teams to work out the details and build mini models.” The end result was a large, self-contained room inside the arena and a 10-minute escape challenge.

Jordan and some of the originating students were able to attend Emerge after the Polytechnic School’s Innovation Showcase, which was held on the same day. “It was exciting to see how different groups approached the challenge,” he said. “Some of teams would divide up and each take a wall, while others would approach each problem together.”

The activities overall served to get families with children excited about engineering. Even the “cheats,” as Jordan referred to the child-level peepholes in the Escape Room, got participants engaged in problem-solving thinking.