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Beyond the Pitch

AwareAbility Teams With OSU Engineering School to Give EE Students Real World Experience

If you want to witness the power of passionate creativity—and find some terrific interns in the process—spend 30 hours straight with a group of engineering students from The Ohio State University (OSU). That’s what AwareAbility CEO Jeff Becker learned when AwareAbility joined Texas Instruments and Microsoft in sponsoring the The Ohio State University’s 24-hour 2015 OHI/O Makeathon in April. The round-the-clock event was presented by the OSU Electronics Club.

AwareAbility and TI supplied microcontrollers, sensors, and other circuit essentials. The event was free for student participants.

“By sponsoring the Makeathon with Texas Instruments, we got to see engineering students validating their ideas. We got to see how they addressed problems and actually worked with their hands,” Becker said.

“You can look at resumes all day long,” said Becker. “They will all say that the person has done course work and is great at this and that. But you can’t tell if someone can design a board, solder, or just talk about doing those things.”

The 24 hour Makeathon was similar to “software hackathons” held on college campuses around the nation except that the focus was on the hardware aspects of technology projects such as using a Texas Instruments MSP430 LaunchPad with a TI CC110L RF BoosterPack or an Arduino board.

This was especially helpful to AwareAbility as the young company is doing something that is typically extra tough for a startup—including a hardware component in its solution.

Student engineers help prototype microcontroller-based devices

“We are using components from Texas Instruments in our solution. We needed the ability of skilled electrical engineers to help us put together the first prototypes, engineers who knew how to work at the microcontroller level. That’s how the Makeathon came into play,” said Becker.

“It’s invaluable, watching someone sit down and say I have this microcontroller-based LaunchPad in front of me. How can I make it work? Those are the people we need within this company—people who can help us make things work,” Becker said.

AwareAbility hired four engineer-interns (all master’s students in electrical engineering) from OSU through the Makeathon. They will be on board for the full summer semester.

“Within a couple of weeks,” Becker said, “our first board was designed and sent to a fabricator. Now we have a micro-controller on a board that we can use for further prototyping. It’s the “make” part of the Makeathon that allowed us to do that.”

AwareAbility interns gain 15 weeks of “real world” experience.

The students are doing for 15 weeks what they did for 30 hours at the Makeathon—with a heavy dose of practical problem solving, while giving AwareAbility’s aggressive and innovative approach to rapid prototyping a significant boost

“They have to figure out coding circuitry,” Becker said, “and struggle with connector pins. They are learning that you can’t just draw and make it work—that there are costs, manufacturing issues, and lead times.”

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