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Spring 2016

When research is done — or almost ready for the road — it’s time to take products for a ride around the test track. Every year, West Virginia University faculty, students and alumni are making ideas that could become commonplace and change the status quo. Here’s a quick look at a few.
Diagram of a purple car

AirCom is small enough to attach to a car's tailpipe and is equipped with GPS, WiFi, a power system and battery. The adaptable components can record location, vehicle and engine measurements and readings from environmental sensors. The sensors are where the important work happens. And it all happens in real-time, relaying information live to a website using the cellular network. 

How’s the Air Out There?


You’re inhaling air reading this right now. And when you’re walking your regular route on your town’s streets, you could be breathing in pollution from emissions. It would be great if there were something that could be fitted on many cars at the same time to track concentrations of air pollutants. With AirCom, that will be an everyday deal, and it comes to us from the WVU team who discovered Volkswagen’s cheating of emissions standards. Research at the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions led to the commercial development of portable emissions measurement systems. Now the team has created a micro-sized version of the device called AirCom, the size of a large TV remote, which can connect to a car’s tailpipe and has a projected cost of a few hundred dollars. So when cities look to reduce air pollution, they’ll have AirCom on their side. 

Speak Robot to Me

If you want your friends to stop whining on social media, put on their boots and join you in taking action for a cause, you may want to recruits some  Internet bots. Saiph Savage, assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering, discovered that on Twitter activists who expressed concern about the same issue started to collaborate when brought together by her Twitter bot tool, Botivist. When she and colleagues at Microsoft and the University of California, Santa Barbara sent automated tweets to Twitter accounts that discussed government corruption in Latin America, they saw an 81 percent rate of related responses. Most of those called to action by Botivist started discussing and collaborating with each other. It turns out that people didn’t like it when the bots tried to be more human. Tweeters gave double the responses when the bots behaved robotically but asked direct questions like “How do we fight corruption in our cities?”

If These Walls Could Talk

At the first tykes crossed into Eastwood Elementary School in Morgantown three years ago, some were just learning to spell W-A-L-L. The walls around them tell a story using some words that are harder to say but concepts that are easy to understand. The building, one of only a few education buildings in the state with a gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, became environmentally and economically responsible in part from the use of fiber-reinforced polymer panels created at WVU’s Constructed Facilities Center. Hota GangaRao, director of the center and the Maurice A. and JoAnn Wadsworth Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering, said the modular panels used in this design can cut cost and construction time in half and eliminate most construction waste. The panels, developed with support from the National Science Foundation, can be made from bio-resin, use recycled material and surpass conventional building materials when it comes to insulation and safety rating. 

For Your Next Breath

When the more than 20 million people in the U.S. with asthma have their lung capacity tested, they have to take deep, excruciating breaths into a plastic bottle called a spirometer. That’s how it’s done. Small children don’t know how to do this, and it hurts a lot. There’s about to be a product that will not only make this process more comfortable, but ensure that rural residents get the treatment they need, too. Michael McCawley, assistant professor in the School of Public Health, started creating a new kind of spirometer completely different from anything on the market while consulting with Respiratory Management Technology in Wilmington, Del. Last year, a group of students in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources helped bring the idea up to date with modern microprocessors and bring it even closer to becoming realized. It’s small, easy to use and mobile. The device that looks like a box connected to a tube has Internet capability so test results can be sent to doctors who may be far away. Because it’s in the home, the invention can also evaluate patients regularly to better manage their asthma and avoid emergency room visits. Once initial testing is finished, the company is partnering with WVU to get the machines into rural homes for further research and one day launch the product commercially. 

Between Sleep and Awake

You may dream of winding corridors that turn right, then left, then right again. If you’re part of a particular art exhibit, those watching you dream could see labyrinths, too. Aaron Williams, BFA ’11, Sculpture and Printmaking, is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Florida where he developed an exhibit called “ENTERFACE: somnwhere” following his research at the WVU sleep research lab. Williams attaches electrodes to a volunteer who then falls asleep. As the subject makes rapid eye movements, software responds to create twists and turns for each movement in a dreamscape reminiscent of video games and make a map of the subject’s sleep patterns. This living, interactive sculpture exhibit that merges art and technology brings attention to sleep, how interesting it is to study and how you miss it when you can’t have it. Williams’ vision is that everyone could use this approach to see the pattern of their dreams after they’re awake. 

Test Track Archive

Spring 2016

This invention that fits in a car's tailpipe can help contribute to getting cleaner air in our cities.

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Spring 2017

A new virtual reality system developed at WVU is pushing neuroscience forward. An eye-scanning technology is keeping financial information safe around the world.

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