Students Tackle Real-World Challenges at ASME EFX in Brooklyn

Nearly 90 engineering students from several colleges in the New York City area participated in a 24-hour hackathon hosted at the MakerSpace student design shop at New York University Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn, NY, earlier this month. The spirited event, “ASME EFx NYU: MakerHack,” was the first EFx event to be held in the United States. Launched last year, EFx events are smaller-scale versions of the ASME Engineering Festivals (E-Fests) that can be easily staged by local colleges and universities throughout the world.

During the hackathon, which was held March 9 and 10 and sponsored by NYU and Siemens, 18 teams worked through the night developing unique solutions to a problem confronting the Brooklyn neighborhood dubbed Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass (DUMBO). In the very near future, a mammoth, five-year $95 million construction project to restore the neighborhood’s famed cobblestone streets and replace the infrastructure underneath will commence, subjecting the area’s business owners, residents and tourists to obstructed streets, sidewalk closures and a range of other construction-related headaches.

“DUMBO Powered by You,” which was the winning entry at the MakerHack event in Brooklyn earlier this month, employed kinetic energy from panels implanted in the sidewalk to power interactive displays intended to guide people through a construction zone to businesses.

The teams taking part in the upbeat, all-night MakerHack were instructed to develop a prototype of a delivery system that would minimize the impact of the multi-year project by keeping tourists and residents informed regarding the progress of construction in the various DUMBO districts and by driving foot traffic to the neighborhood’s local businesses.

At the end of the EFx MakerHack, which was attended by ASME Executive Director/CEO Tom Costabile and a number of other ASME staff and volunteers, three teams were singled out for their innovative solutions to the challenges posed by the renovation in DUMBO.

The competition’s $3,500 top prize went to a five-member team of students from NYU for their entry, “DUMBO Powered by You,” which proposed that interactive displays powered by kinetic energy collected from panels embedded in the sidewalk could guide people through the construction scaffolding to shops that were open for business that day.

A four-member team from NYU placed second in the competition and received $1,500 for their concept, “Twitter Plant,” which incorporated interactive art exhibits and an augmented reality smartphone app that would provide information about businesses that were open in the area, as well as artificial plants that would tweet passersby when they needed to be watered—and hopefully encourage traffic to businesses within the construction zone.

Three NYU students and a student from New York City College of Technology (City Tech) took home the $500 third prize for their entry, “DUMBO EZ Alerts,” a comprehensive software solution for informing residents and tourists of DUMBO about the street closures, utility outages and other various changes scheduled to occur in their neighborhood.

In addition to the cash prize, the winning team from NYU is currently in talks with members of the DUMBO Improvement District (BID) team, who proposed the challenge for the MakerHack competition, about the possible implementation of “DUMBO Powered by You” when the restoration project begins. All three teams also have the opportunity to submit their ideas to the city for further consideration.

Brianna Miglaccio, the chair of the NYU Tandon student chapter who led the organization of the EFx MakerHack event with fellow student member Rosaura Ocampo, noted that the difference between the NYU hackathon and others she had attended in the past was that students were challenged to develop actual physical prototypes instead of software apps. “You get to see something made,” she continued. “It’s only been two hours, and I already saw someone create a pressure sensor that generates electricity. That’s very innovative stuff, and we just started.”

Diego Curatolo, a senior from City Tech and member of the “DUMBO EZ Alerts” team, was particularly enthusiastic about taking part in the event. “I definitely think it’s a great opportunity for students to learn more about ASME and to get the chance to work with other students from other universities,” said Curatolo, a senior in mechanical engineering. “I’ve actually gotten the opportunity to work with some of the NYU students, which isn’t something that usually happens. So I’m grateful for that.”

Chris Martin, director of operations and community development for the DUMBO BID, was also impressed with the EFx at NYU and its potential influence on the students who participated. “I think the event was great,” he said. “I’m excited to see what happens. I think students who are studying engineering can do a lot of really awesome things. I hope that this is something that helps them realize that the work that they can do can be impactful to their communities.”

For information on hosting an EFx, contact Kristen Leoce at

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