Cara Nunez was confident in her speaking abilities when she walked into the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition in December, but as a participant in the Elevator Pitch Contest, she had only 90 seconds to convince a team of judges that the device she and a group of fellow students had invented could be successfully commercialized. When she finished her pitch, she was surprised that the five judges had no questions or feedback to offer. That’s because she did so well. The International Engineering Program student won the competition’s top prize.
“There were a lot of really great ideas and a lot of great presenters,” she said. “Some were seasoned and had a lot of experience, and a couple had already started businesses. But I have given a lot of presentations in class and knew I had to the ability to speak well and get my ideas across clearly.”
Cara pitched a business plan for commercializing a wearable eye-tracking device that can control a robotic arm. The device, created with four other students as part of an engineering class, is intended to help patients with mobility-impairments accomplish daily tasks.
They built a robotic arm using a 3D printer and then attached a pixie camera with built-in tracking capabilities to a helmet. “The camera is pointed at the wearer’s eye, and if you want to move the arm left or right, you just move your pupil left or right,” she explained. Cara envisions the camera system would eventually be connected to a headband or eyeglasses to make it less noticeable. She imagines the arm could be strapped to the patient or mounted on a wheelchair.
“I’m applying to grad schools and hope one day to be a professor,” she said of her future plans. “I like working with students and people with new ideas, and I’m looking forward to leading my own students on projects like this one.”