Grad student’s thermostat concept wins ideas contest

Ben Bates

Ben Bates

Shelly Brenckman Shelly Brenckman

An energy-saving thermostat and high-tech clothing tags that take the guesswork out of washer and dryer settings were among the award-winning ideas hatched by College of Architecture students in a contest sponsored by the Mays Business School’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship.

The annual Ideas Challenge cultivates Texas A&M’s collective entrepreneurial spirit, challenging Aggies of all majors and classifications to contribute their entrepreneurial ideas and develop competencies needed to identify and successfully implement new business ideas throughout their careers.

Homeowners and businesses could realize significant energy savings with the winning concept, a thermostat developed by Patrick Daniels, who’s pursuing Master of Science in Construction Management and Master of Land and Property Development degrees at Texas A&M.

Daniels’ concept, iQstat – Intelligent Climate Control, also earned Daniels a $3,000 prize.

“It’s a thermostat that allows a home's central heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to provide various temperatures to different rooms,” said Daniels. The concept could deliver considerable energy savings by, for instance, providing less air conditioning in summer months to the kitchen and other rooms unoccupied overnight.

“HVAC systems consume 50% of household energy, equal to all your other appliances combined,” he said. “By conditioning spaces only as needed, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates consumers can save up to 40% in their HVAC costs.”

It’s Daniels’ second-consecutive first-place finish in the contest: in 2011, he earned top honors with Martin Griggs, a Master of Urban Planning student, with an idea to rent portable folding bicycles from a kiosk at university-sponsored events.

Daniels is planning to graduate in August with certificates in business, facilities management, health systems and design and sustainable urbanism.

In Ben Bates’ third-place idea, washers and dryers “know” what clothes are in a load of laundry from clothing tags embedded with radio-frequency identification technology; the appliances are then able to determine the best settings for each load.

“RFID clothing tags could revolutionize how we do our laundry at home,” said Bates, a graduate management major. Bates developed the idea in a management creativity and innovation class led by Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture, and Rodney Hill, professor of architecture, through the Mays Business School. He split the $1,000 prize with four co-developers.

Two proposals by environmental design major Shelly Brenckman earned third-place finishes and a total of $2,000.

Her “House of Geekdom LLC” is a proposed entrepreneurship, learning and living community for Texas A&M students designed to jumpstart a campus culture of collaboration, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship through partnerships with Geekdom, a collaborative workspace in San Antonio and new efforts at Texas A&M to strengthen and enhance student-faculty innovation.

In Brenckman’s other third-place proposal, energy created by rubber pavers on any flat surface such as plazas and patios could be used to power low-wattage appliances such as streetlights or signage. The energy would be created simply by ceramic piezo crystals in the paver reacting with people walking on them.

“A piezo crystal is the same thing used in kids' shoes that light up when they step on them … it's the very same principle,” said Brenckman, who collaborated with Tahir Cagin, professor of chemical engineering, to incorporate his piezo engineering research into the paver application.

Each year, hundreds of students, in majors from agriculture to zoology, submit essays each year describing their entrepreneurial concepts. Leaders in business and academia judge each submission and name 40 finalists, who then present their concepts in the final competition to a panel of business leaders, who determine the top finishers.

posted May 25, 2012