24 Hours in Dumbo

For a full 24 hours in DUMBO—a trendy section of Brooklyn, N.Y., that is Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass—engineering students from local universities took on the task of helping community developers create a working prototype of a real-world problem: minimizing the business development hit the region is expected to receive in the next five years resulting from a major redevelopment of the area.

Local businesses are facing long stretches of loud construction, obstructed walkways, and scaffolds during upcoming years, and public and private groups representing the shopkeepers fear the upheaval will cause a loss of business to retailers in the area. They are looking for SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) ideas. So they turned to ASME for answers. The twist is that the first place they looked at for answers is among student members.

In collaboration with New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, ASME held a 24-hour hackathon to see what concepts engineering students could come up with to help the neighborhood overcome the disruptions.

Nearly 100 students showed up. They were inspired by comments from ASME Executive Director Thomas Costabile and other organizers, and given access to the NYU MakerLab space filled with 3D printers, tools, and great buzz. The ideas that emerged 24 hours later varied greatly. Each of the teams took a different approach, but all of them focused on a technology-based solution.

One team proposed building a temporary, fold-up version of Manhattan’s High Line—the elevated walkway that was once a freight train line hugging a portion of the west side of the island. Another featured a virtual shopping center with special-delivery services. Yet another proposed to build a mobile kiosk serving as a central delivery point for restaurants and cafés.

First place went to a team of students who were inspired by the New York Festival of Light in 2014. They proposed user-powered piezoelectric light displays around DUMBO, which would be activated by mechanical pressure from increased foot traffic. The notion being that the pressure from the steps of visitors would power different lights and art displays in the neighborhood. The more people visited DUMBO, the more brilliant the light displays would be.

The overnight hackathon was part of ASME’s EFx programs, which are one-day events intended to take the excitement, innovation, and vibrant experience of weekend-long ASME E-Fests engineering festivals to more students at colleges and universities around the world.

ASME is in the midst of its third E-Fests season. In February the first full E-Fest event of the year was held at Vellore Institute of Technology in India. The second one took place in March at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. The third event was hosted by Michigan State University last month. The fourth and final E-Fest of 2019 is scheduled for August at Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Peru in Lima. EFx programs such as the one in Brooklyn, however, are mostly student-driven.

“Events like EFx build excitement for engineering and bridge the gap between full E-Fest programs,” Costabile said. EFx programs are pop-up events that students can develop quickly with help from ASME. It’s a day full of competition, learning and fun, he said.

“I love to see so many engineering students participate in events like this,” Costabile added. “The future of engineering lies in the minds and souls of these young engineers. I have met so many students and every time I do I am further assured that the profession is in good hands.”

John G. Falcioni is the Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering Magazine.

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