Infy Maker Awards 2017 Winners: Inspired Makers Addressing Today's Persistent Problems with Disruptive Solutions

By Al Drew | June 16, 2017 

Alvin Drew @alvindrew is a NASA astronaut and a veteran of 2 shuttle missions. On February 28, 2011, he became the 200th person to walk in space. He is a decorated colonel in the U.S. Air Force with over 25 years of service serving in 4 operations. Alvin has spent over 600 hours in space with over 12 hours of spacewalks. Most recently, he was asked to be a judge for Infy Maker Awards. 

This past spring, I got the chance to review submissions for the Infy Maker Awards. The challenge involved maker projects tackling challenges in health, education, environmental sustainability and combatting hunger. 

I spent twelve years as an astronaut in NASA's Human Spaceflight Program. There, we still view the innovation and collaboration across a quarter-million miles of space—ultimately saving the crew of Apollo 13--as one of the pinnacles of our rich space exploration history. It’s been uplifting to see that very combination of insight and hands-on problem solving--not just still alive--but thriving today. 

I was impressed by the sheer elegance and simplicity of the designs that I reviewed, especially in comparison with the disproportionate – even disruptive –impacts they might achieve. One was a purely mechanical 21st century version of the cotton gin – this time used to replace the notoriously difficult and time intensive methods to thresh Pearl Millet. It’s hard to even imagine the scale of the effects this will bring to the livelihoods of nations dependent upon this as a staple food source. 

I reviewed a number of medical tools and prosthetics, exploiting computer vision and 3-D printing, to both create original and more accessible devices to improve the quality of life and the life expectancy of patients. Another submission was an easily manufactured portable cook-stove, designed in response to the post-earthquake conditions in Nepal. 

In my career of dealing with jet engine and rocket nozzles--crafted on computer-numerically-controlled machines and often laid-up in clean rooms--seeing an efficient jet nozzle, able to be mass-produced in austere conditions, made my mind swim with speculation for its potential use on the frontiers of space exploration. (The Martian, anyone?) 

To think that there is so much brilliance and originality--being brought to bear on some of our present day’s persistent problems—all to do good, is cause for optimism for all of us. Tune in to see the wonderful submissions, and be inspired to make as well. 

List of Infy Maker Awards 2017 Winners 

3D Design Problem Bank
Ipswich, MA
Allows schools to use 3D printing as a catalyst for student empowerment and action. School members post problems and students create authentic solutions, becoming engaged and experienced changemakers in the process.

3D Printing of Congenital Heart Defect Models
Phoenix, AZ
These 3D models enable clinicians to review patient anatomy prior to potentially invasive and challenging medical procedures.

A mold for cookstove burner production in post-earthquake Nepal
San Francisco, CA
A 3D printed mold made in Nepal specially designed to enable a sand-casting process for large-scale production of market-beating, highly efficient, clean and very affordable cookstove burners.

Argos SmartBoot
Madison, WI
A method for tracking the location of a firefighter within a building and reporting the location of the firefighter, as well as additional health and environmental information, to an external support team.

Ballistra Guidewire Advancer
Bordentown, NJ
A device that will drastically reduce complication rates associated with the 5 million central lines placed into the veins of patients each year by making the procedure one-handed, fully visualized and protected.

Braille Thing?
Graton, CA
A 3D printed system that allows a visually impaired child to play and learn the braille alphabet in a fun and engaging way!

Madison, WI
An electric fishing drone to efficiently harvest Invasive Asian Carp, leveraging the unique characteristics of the species to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the harvest, improving the environment, and creating a sustainable food source.

Drying and Inspection apparatus for Diabetic Foot
El Paso, TX
A simple device that enables the clinician to monitor foot ulcers on a daily basis without having the patient leave the comfort of their own home, having prompt intervention and avoiding further complications.

Brooklyn, NY
A data collecting recycler that can enhance schools recycling program through awareness for the students and a fun interactive project that can be used for teaching.

Cleveland, OH
A durable shock-absorbing liner inspired by hedgehogs’ natural ability to withstand high-speed impacts.

Lumos: The Hospital Room of the Future
Berkeley, CA
A smart lighting and ambient environment controller to lower delirium rates and combat patient loneliness.

Mosquito Mortar
Milltown, NJ
This is an air-powered cannon that fires water soluble projectiles containing mosquito control products. It is used for delivering mosquito control to inaccessible areas or to communities with limited resources.

Manvel, TX
A handheld pathogen sensing device detects pathogens rapidly, reliably, and inexpensively.

Pantry Cooler
Easton, PA
This insulated battery storage unit converted to a cooler makes it easy for deliveries of fresh produce to be made to local food pantries and food banks without fear of spoilage due to lack of temperature control.

Path Guidance System For Visually Impaired Athletes
Aspen, CO
A device that creates greater access and independence for people with visual impairments to participate in various sports at a high level.

Pearl Millet H.I.T. (High Impact Thresher)
Shrutesbury, MA
An affordable labor-saving tool designed to thresh and winnow pearl millet, an alternative to manual threshing that has been practiced for thousands of years on small rural subsistence farms.

Reflexion Interactive Technologies
Lancaster, PA
Detects concussions in only thirty seconds and does not require a coach or trainer to suspect a concussion first. This allows mild concussions that currently go undetected to be caught.

RVS Rubber Solutions
Aurora, OH
A high-quality, low-cost recycled alternative to virgin rubber that is produced through reclaiming would-be waste materials.

Shelter 2.0
Machiopongo, VA
Low-cost, open source transitional housing that's used for the homeless, refugees and victims of natural disasters.

SuperGait Ankle Foot Orthosis
Toledo, OH
The hinged ankle foot orthosis (a medical device used to treat drop foot) developed here enables users to get closer to a normal range of motion through the use of super-elastic material.

Talking Tools for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Madison, WI
A system to add talking functionality to tools that traditionally display data using a digital display.

Tape-It-Easy (TIE)
Seattle, WA
A hand-driven system that simplifies water efficient drip irrigation installation, making it a pragmatic option for small-scale farmers and gardeners, thus leading to increasing adoption rates and contributing to global water conservation.

The Babylon System
Charlottesville, VA
This system brings affordable semi-automated hydroponic farming to people's homes.

Virtual Fitting Tool for Open-Source Prosthetics
Blacksburg, VA
This tool provides an easy, free, open-source methodology for accurately fitting open-source prosthetic hardware to patients.

Water Leak Detection Robot
Cambridge, MA
This robot can accurately detect leaks in city water distribution pipes. It is made of soft material for maximum reliability and can go around pipe elbows.