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Hearing a call for safety innovation

April 23, 2019

Vietnamese engineering students tackle problem of safety for deaf drivers in ASU-supported EPICS program

A car collided with an ambulance on the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Despite the blaring sirens, the driver hadn’t heard the frantic ambulance approaching because the windows were up and the music was playing loudly. 

Hoàng My, a fourth-year automotive engineering student at Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology and Education, witnessed this collision on her way to class. In a country with tens of millions of motorbike drivers, My worried for the roughly 2.5 million deaf Vietnamese people who drive motorbikes every day. 

Most deaf people don’t wear hearing aid devices while driving and, since they can’t get an official driver’s license, they also drive unprotected by any accident insurance. 

My was determined to do something to protect these vulnerable drivers.

Both jarred and inspired by the collision, My joined the USAID-sponsored Engineering Projects in Community Service Program — known by the students as EPICS. EPICS is an engineering design challenge that asks university students to identify an engineering-based community issue, form a team of students to tackle that issue, and create a working prototype of a solution. 

Arizona State University, as an implementing partner of the USAID BUILD-IT Alliance, supports the EPICS program in six Vietnamese engineering universities. Since 2017, ASU faculty and staff have traveled to Vietnam regularly to conduct a number of EPICS curriculum trainings to prepare Vietnamese faculty to run the EPICS course on their campuses. ASU encourages EPICS in Vietnam as a means to empower young innovators to engineer better communities. 

Starting in September 2018, My formed the Wonder Girls, an EPICS team with three other female engineering students. The Wonder Girls set out to engineer a safety device for deaf motorbike drivers.

To understand a deaf person’s challenges, My and her teammates, Minh Hoà, Hoàng Hà, and My Hông, visited a school for the deaf. They learned how the deaf and hearing-impaired use signals, touch rhythms and signs to communicate. The deaf students shared their driving challenges with the Wonder Girls through writing and sign language. The students learned that driving is especially dangerous for the hard of hearing, but thet are compelled to drive to earn a living. Although expensive hearing aid devices can help the hearing-impaired drive more safely, there are few innovations for the entirely deaf.

wonder girls team

From left: Hoàng My, Minh Hoà, Hoàng Hà and My Hông.

With guidance from the deaf community, the Wonder Girls spent the next four months designing, re-designing, 3D printing and coding a signal and vibration gadget prototype. While the Wonder Girls’ regular classes had prepared them to do the technical work needed for their prototype, no class had ever asked them to apply their learning by leading their own innovation.

My saw EPICS as a chance to “actualize our idea and turn society into a better place with it.” The EPICS faculty at her school encouraged the Wonder Girls to reach beyond their comfort zone to code, weld electronic circuits and 3D print their prototype at the nearest USAID-supported Maker Innovation Space. 

“Before EPICS I only learned basic programing,” shared Wonder Girls’ team tech guru, My Hông. “But now I can program a whole complicated device. We never designed and printed a 3D prototype before, but now we’ve taught ourselves how.”

In preparation for the EPICS Final Showcase in January 2019, the Wonder Girls demonstrated their prototype, Abu-Friend, to industry mentors from Dow Vietnam. Onlookers were impressed to see that a small orange box containing just a microphone sensor, a wi-fi transmitter and a vibration motor can give a lifesaving signal to a deaf driver.

The Wonder Girls explained that the Abu-Friend gadget is worn close to a driver’s chest and vibrates when it hears an ambulance siren. Feeling the vibration, the driver can follow traffic rules to gradually pull over to let the ambulance pass safely. The Abu-Friend impacts a specific problem for a specific vulnerable population and does so at about the U.S. equivalent of $20.

The Wonder Girls are still working on the kinks in the system. As first-time innovators, designers, coders and builders, they acknowledge there is still room to grow as engineers and entrepreneurs. 

Now that EPICS is complete, the Wonder Girls will continue developing Abu-Friend with the USAID-supported Maker-to-Entrepreneur Program so they can bring Abu-Friend to market. 

Reflecting on the EPICS Hoàng Hà said, “As a team player, step-by-step EPICS made me better. I’m no longer embarrassed to say my opinion, right or wrong. We respect each other’s views.” 

Written by Deren Temel, program manager, ASU Vietnam. 

Top photo by Pixabay

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Innovative Novus project enters its next stage of development

April 23, 2019

Hyatt hotel that broke ground Tuesday and is set to open in 2020 represents newest phase in Novus Innovation Corridor

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2019.

The new hotel going up northwest of University Drive and Rural Road is part of a reimagining of the north part of the Arizona State University campus in Tempe that will draw corporate partners to the university’s knowledge enterprise, according to the chief financial officer of ASU.

“Clearly we believe this is a fantastic real estate location, but it’s so much more than that in terms of the partnerships and relationships that we foster,” Morgan R. Olsen said at the hotel’s groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday. The hotel, a combination Hyatt House and Hyatt Place, will be directly across the street from Wells Fargo Arena.

“We’re the largest research university in the country, and we’re increasingly global,” said Olsen, who is also university executive vice president. “It’s a knowledge-based economy. That’s our fundamental core business.”

The groundbreaking marks the first project in the third phase of the Novus Innovation Corridor. The third phase will include the 259-room Hyatt hotel with a rooftop pool, as well as a six-story apartment complex focused on working professionals and an L-shaped, Class A office building that will sit just off the northwest corner of University Drive and Rural Road. The apartment and office buildings will have restaurants and retail shops on the ground floor.

The Novus Innovation Corridor is a 350-acre public-private partnership that will eventually include nearly 10 million square feet of office space, apartments, hospitality, retail and an athletics village with fields and a tennis facility.

Morgan Olsen

Morgan Olson, ASU's executive vice president, treasurer and CFO, speaks at the groundbreaking of the Novus Innovation Corridor's dual-branded Hyatt Place and Hyatt House facility on April 23 in Tempe. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

Olsen said the project has evolved over time from a focus on funding athletics to creating collaborations to tie into the university’s mission.

“Part of this is intercollegiate athletics, but more important is what we do in terms of teaching and learning and research and collaboration with other organizations,” he said.

The first phase of Novus was Marina Heights, the lakeside development that includes the State Farm regional hub, and the second was the redevelopment of Sun Devil Stadium into ASU 365 Community Union, a year-round space that will host hundreds of events.

The next phase of the development is planned to be a creative office park at Rio Salado Parkway and Dorsey Lane, anchored by three large office buildings with affiliated parking. Novus hopes to attract large corporations interested in joining forces with ASU to advance collaboration and economic development. Marina Heights occupant State Farm already has partnered with the university in multiple ways.

Overall, Novus is projected to create 24,000 jobs and generate $4.6 billion in economic output at full build-out.

“Ideally, we’d like to leverage what our faculty are doing in laboratories, and it’s an opportunity for our students to learn and become entrepreneurs. This is a place for that to happen, and we think it’s part of the university’s mission to facilitate that,” Olsen said.

“Our charter is about assuming responsibility for the economic and overall health of our communities, and this is a physical manifestation of that.”

Hyatt hotel rendering

The eight-story, 259-room hotel, located on northeast corner of Veterans Way and Sixth Street in Tempe, is scheduled to be open in the summer of 2020. Artist rendering  

The hotel-apartment-office complex on the northwest corner of University and Rural will be connected via a pedestrian bridge to the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 7, which is being constructed on the southwest corner of that intersection. ISTB7 will house the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and research labs.

“We’re trying to make sure there’s a lot of connectivity between what happens on campus and in the Novus Innovation Corridor, literally and figuratively,” Olsen said.

“The south side (of University Drive) is where our faculty and others are working on discovering new ideas, and we hope we’ll see the application of those ideas on the north side.”

The Novus development, which could take a period of years to complete and will change the face of the Rural Road area south of Tempe Town Lake, had its origins almost a decade ago. In 2010, the state Legislature passed a bill allowing the three state universities to create athletic facilities districts. Jan Brewer, governor at the time, signed it into law. The concept allows private developers to build on university land, which is exempt from property taxes under the state constitution. In return, the companies make additional rent payments to the university in lieu of property taxes, and that money is spent on athletics facilities.

The master developer for the Novus Innovation Corridor is Catellus Development Corp. Charley Freericks, senior vice president of Catellus and an ASU alumnus, said that the multiyear completion timeline takes into account the natural ups and downs in a local economy. It is a project that has drawn national interest.

“There’s nothing like it in the country,” Freericks said. “There are smaller versions at remote and urban campuses, but it’s a rare opportunity to have 350 acres of land adjacent to a successful urban university. By land area alone, it’s bigger than anything in the country, and its urban setting, adjacent to freeway, rail and less than 2 miles from an international airport — you just don’t find this anywhere else.” 

“Companies all over the region are drawn to being near ASU. They want to be near the employee generation that’s happening as you produce graduates. That’s the No. 1 topic for every company that’s relocated lately.”

novus groundbreaking

Officials from ASU, Mortenson Construction, Catellus Development, the city of Tempe and Hyatt Hotels toss the ceremonial first dirt at the groundbreaking on April 23. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

Ray Anderson, ASU’s vice president for university athletics, said he was impressed by the plan when he came to ASU five years ago.

“I thought it was a very creative way of utilizing very valuable property around the university to create an urban work-live-play environment, with the thought that the in-lieu payments generated would go toward supporting expansion of athletics,” he said.

Changes to Sun Devil Athletics facilities include:

• A new 4,500-seat multipurpose arena for the hockey, gymnastics and volleyball teams, to be built near Wells Fargo Arena, which will be renovated.

• A new Athletic Village, which will include a track and field facility, multipurpose fields for intramural student sports and intercollegiate use, and a tennis facility. Karsten Golf Course will close next month to make way for the village and other future developments. The site of the current tennis courts, on the northwest corner of Rural Road and Sixth Street, ultimately is slated to become apartments.

• Renovations and a new clubhouse and practice facility at Papago Golf Course, now home to the Sun Devils men’s and women’s golf teams.

Anderson said that the football stadium renovation and new facilities have boosted recruiting.

“But it’s also a strong indicator to the other student-athletes that the new facilities are on the rise and not just an empty promise,” he said.

Olsen said that other universities with high-level athletics programs get state money for facilities.

“That would not happen in our state, so this is the tool that the governor and Legislature provided to us,” he said.

The goal is to create a project that will thrive for decades.

“Ideally, we want this to reflect the best principles of sustainability and new urbanism,” Olsen said.

“We want people to live close to where they work, so they have to be attracted to the amenities that are provided.”

Mayor Mark Mitchell

"This Novus Innovation Corridor builds on the work that we have been doing in the city of Tempe for many decades," Mayor Mark Mitchell said Tuesday at the groundbreaking. "Our investments in Tempe Town Lake, light rail and the street car that’s now under construction have made this type of project a reality for everyone here. This will provide the lifestyle experience that fits into our urban core in the city of Tempe." Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell said that Novus is the latest in decades of collaboration between the city and ASU.

“Think about Tempe Town Lake — when I was a kid, it was a dry riverbed. It was landfill,” he said.

“It took an idea from an ASU class and the vision from the city, and then working with state and federal entities, to make that dream a reality,” he said.

“We funded it up front and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Well, since the lake’s inception, there has been $1.7 billion of capital investment around the lake and 40,000 people live and work there.”

Top image: An artist's rendering of the Novus Innovation Corridor.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now