Plan to Create a Warning System for Levees, Other Structures Wins $45,000 in UMass Competition

AMHERST, Mass. – A plan for an enterprise that would monitor and provide failure warning systems for earthen structures has won the $45,000 phase of the Technology Innovation Challenge, a competition for the best entrepreneurial technology business plan run by the College of Engineering, the Isenberg School of Management, and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The challenge, a competition for students, recent alumni and faculty advisors on campus, is primarily sponsored by Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, a Boston-based law firm specializing in intellectual property.

Condition Engineering, a team made up of engineering doctoral student Alaina Hanlon, alumnus Rick Bradshaw and Robert Hyers, faculty advisor from the department of mechanical and industrial engineering, received $20,000 in cash and will be given an additional $25,000 in stages, as they advance their business plan toward commercialization.

The team proposed a company that would provide condition monitoring and early failure warning systems for earthen structures. Current monitoring techniques are limited to visual inspections and specialized sensors and equipment that are expensive and provide limited information. The best example of a situation in which these methods proved insufficient was the levee failures in New Orleans that resulted in $200 billion in damages and thousands of displaced residents.

Condition Engineering would deliver a novel set of sensor units embedded in the ground, with tens of thousands of these sensors providing a widespread monitoring and early failure warning system. This technology would be versatile across many markets and applications, including construction sites, railroad beds, flood control systems, landfills and bridges.

The competition was the brainchild of Michael F. Malone, Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor of Engineering and dean of the College of Engineering, and Soren Bisgaard, the Eugene M. Isenberg Professor of Technology Management and a dean of the Isenberg School of Management. Malone and Bisgaard established the challenge as a competition that promotes innovation education based on technology conceived by faculty, students and alumni at UMass Amherst. The competition focuses on interdisciplinary student teams, in consultation with faculty members who are experts in the technology. The object of the competition is that each team conceives a product with regard to its scientific and technological design, and then creates a business plan for its commercialization. The competition is open to teams that include at least one full-time UMass undergraduate or graduate student or recent graduate.

“It''s a great educational tool,” says Malone of the competition. “Innovation is an area where learning by doing is more effective.” Malone adds that because it is limited to technology-based businesses, the competition encourages science and engineering students to think of commercial applications for their work.

In addition to Wolf, Greenfield, & Sacks, other sponsors of the competition include Paul Carney BBA ’82, Forge Partners, LLC, Eric Janszen BS ’04 & Candy Janszen, Scott Perry BS ’82, Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting, Kodiak Venture Partners, Brook Venture Partners, Long River Ventures, Signal Lake, Michael Tunstall BS ’82, and VISTAGY, Inc.