Streamlining Engineering Product Development


First IEEE-University Innovation Challenge Sparks Big Ideas

By Mark Dwortzan

BME Professor of Practice Arthur Rosenthal, who teachers BE 700 with Jonathan Rosen, the College's director of Technology Innovation Programs.
BME Professor of Practice Arthur Rosenthal, who teachers BE 700 with Jonathan Rosen, the College’s director of Technology Innovation Programs.

When researching anatomical data to develop new biomedical devices, engineers have no universally accepted, reliable resource to rapidly and consistently obtain the information they need. So Benjamin Hertz and Bhavesh Patel, two students in BE 700, Advanced Biomedical Design and Development, have proposed a solution: a software tool called “Interactive Virtual Human” that provides an interactive virtual human body displaying searchable anatomical information obtained from scientific journal articles. For example, a search on “sternum” will highlight the sternum on the virtual body and show average sternum data for males and females, such as dimensions, material properties, and links to related research.

Rather than cherry-picking the information they need about a particular organ such as the heart or foot from countless scientific journal articles, “Interactive Virtual Human” would consolidate the information in one spot. By using this tool during the initial design phase of any medical device, research and development engineers could improve their design as they save time and money.

On the strength of their proposal, Hertz and Patel won the top $5,000 prize in the IEEE-BU Innovation Challenge, the first implementation of IEEE’s Co-Creation program designed to leverage the creativity of engineering and business graduate students to develop new tools that its members could use to design engineering products more efficiently.

“Biomedical engineering, which brings engineering, medicine and biology together, is an ideal discipline for which IEEE and university students can co-create new information and data-driven solutions,” said Sandeep Sharma, senior manager of the IEEE New Product Development Group and manager of the program. “Boston University, with its leading biomedical engineering program, was a natural choice as our first partner in IEEE’s pioneering Co-Creation program.”

Offered as an optional activity to all 21 students in BE 700 (a required course for all BME Master of Engineering students), the IEEE-BU Innovation Challenge drew seven proposals from individuals and teams, which were judged on their creativity and market potential by Professor Solomon Eisenberg, the BME Department head; Greg Martin, the BME’s Wallace H. Coulter Translational Partnership program director; and Lavanya Sayam of the IEEE’s New Product Development Group.

“The Challenge allowed the students to use their real-world experience and lessons learned in the course to make product development more efficient,” said BME Professor of Practice Arthur Rosenthal, who teachers the course with Jonathan Rosen, the College’s director of Technology Innovation Programs. “Our students proposed ideas on how to accelerate biomedical device development, but their ideas could be applied to other engineering fields.”

Participants were asked to prepare a PowerPoint presentation identifying the problem and their solution, comparing it with existing approaches, documenting real-world test cases and showing feedback from academia and industry.

“WOW! This is like Google Maps for the body,” said a principal engineer at Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company, in feedback on “Interactive Virtual Human.” “I would be able to learn the anatomy and how different parts of the body interact with each other and behave much better than looking at images online and searching through journal articles. But, most importantly, the cited information is exactly what I look for when justifying my design to the R&D team and clinicians for feedback.”

Netting second place honors and $1,000 for her entry, “Anthropomorphic database search tool,” Carolynn Gaut proposed an anatomical search engine that includes the average of sizes, measurements and forces associated with particular components of the human skeleton, such as the spine. Gaut’s tool would save a significant amount of time, money and resources for biomedical device developers who might otherwise sift through hundreds of articles and journals to find a consensus on these numbers.

Receiving commendable mention were two other proposals, “Medical Research Project File,” which facilitates collaboration across multiple institutions on similar projects; and “Project Folder with United Search,” which enables searches across publications, patents and standards.

The IEEE-BU Innovation Challenge was a natural fit for BE 700, a hands-on, graduate biomedical design course providing students with the opportunity to work directly with the clinical community, analyze real-world medical needs, design novel and innovative engineering solutions, build prototypes and reduce these concepts to practice.