Students Steal Show in Traffic Safety Contest
Combining personal experience with engineering skill and creative flair, NC State students won four of five awards in the World Traffic Safety Symposium's Design for Safety Competition at the New York International Auto Show in April. "We're always looking for something that nobody's thought of before, something that will give us a chance," said Dr. Bong-Il Jin, a professor in the Department of Industrial Design who worked with the students as they developed their ideas. This year, they stole the show.
Graduate student Kathryn Asad, the first-place winner, found that spray from a tractor-trailer's tires on a rain-
slicked highway obscured her vision of the road during a trip last year, and she wanted to minimize that risk for other drivers. So, she devised "CurtAir," which uses a vehicle's compressor to feed a series of nozzles inside each wheel well that blast jets of air onto the tires. The air flow then creates an invisible curtain that deflects the spray off the tires toward the roadway.
Taking second place, senior Alex Bodnarchuk drew from his experience of skidding on black ice for his "SlipVision" idea. He says Jin encouraged him to combine his plans for black ice sensors on a car with his idea of using bioluminescent paint on roads without street lights. The result involves mixing quinine or other material that glows under black light with asphalt when paving roads and then using ultraviolet LEDs on cars or roadsides to illuminate the quinine and reveal patches of black ice.
Lance Cassidy, a graduate student who finished third in the competition, leveraged his undergraduate work in aerospace engineering to design an external airbag for cars. During an internship at NASA's Langley Research Center, he got a firsthand look at the airbags developed to protect the Mars Rover landing craft and theorized the same sensor-activated technology could be used to cushion cars in collisions. "The point of the contest is to push technology in ways engineers aren't going to think of," Cassidy says.
Fifth-place winner Ali Sutton-Settemi, a senior, also relied on a background in engineering to design "Flex Heat," a solar-powered mat that can be bonded to asphalt on bridges to generate heat to melt ice and snow. "Engineers are very convergent thinkers. They have to bring all their ideas down to one equation or one solution," Sutton-Settemi says. "Designers are divergent thinkers. We think of as many possibilities as possible, even if they're crazy, to come up with something new."