7 cool projects we saw at Nexus Maximus

A machine that shows you how much sugar you're drinking, a water barrel that generates electricity and 3D-printed snack bars were a few of the innovations on display at Philadelphia University.

The Tally team celebrates its Nexus Maximus win.

(Photo by Dan Marcel)

In the center of a room filled with hundreds of people, one man stands holding a Roman centurion helmet and a bell. Every seven minutes the man dons the helmet and rings that bell. “Judges,” calls a voice in the distance. “That’s your cue.” This is Nexus Maximus.

Nexus Maximus is a four-day innovation challenge at Philadelphia University that brings hundreds students from diverse disciplines together to build products that solve problems.
Students in dozens of majors, including industrial design, business and engineering, participate. They’re from schools from around the world, including Aalto University in Finland, KEA Copenhagen School of Design and Technology, the Paris-est d. School, plus local colleges like Temple and, of course, PhilaU.

Helmet and Bell.

Students compete for the right to don the helmet. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

In its second year, the theme was “Health for Life – Birth to College,” where students collaborating in interdisciplinary teams developed concepts and prototypes for innovations to support a healthy and happy childhood. The Nexus Maximus challenge was sponsored by healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson. After working round-the-clock for three days, the teams presented their solutions, vying for a chance to wield the Roman centurion helmet, sword and shield, to hoist and celebrate, Stanley Cup-style.
“Nexus Maximus is an important opportunity to help students who are interested in entrepreneurship get exposed to finding opportunities and solving complex problems,” Zoe McKinley, director of PhilaU’s Blackstone LaunchPad, said. “From this foundation, they can continue working on their innovative ideas through the Blackstone LaunchPad, and some of these insights may become viable businesses.”
In all, 330 students in 51 teams combined their expertise to tackle some of society’s biggest problems. What did they come up with? Take a look.

1. Tally


Tally in action. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

Tally took home the Nexus Maximus grand prize for designing a calorie and sugar packet counter that integrates with soda machines.
“We don’t want to tell you to drink less soda, we want you do to decide,” said Aria Lee, a junior Industrial Design Major at PhilaU. “We’re trying to inform the consumer and let them take charge.”
The machine fits on existing beverage dispensers already in most fast food restaurants and college dining halls.
“I have the engineering side and someone else has the design, someone else the script,” said Thomas Demmer, an engineering graduate of the Paris Est d. School in France. “All of that mixed and we had a great way to work together.”

Tally pulls the sword from the stone to celebrate its Nexus Maximus win. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

In proper lean-test style, the product has already even been tested. The group went to PhilaU’s Ravenhill Dining Hall and discovered that when students actually knew how many sugar packets and calories they were drinking, many were hesitant to drink in excess. But soda fountains aren’t the only thing with which Tally can integrate. The group wants to expand Tally to vending machines, ice cream dispensers or anything with itemized data.
That’s empowering people to make their own decisions about their health with data.

2. Motus


A prototype of Motus. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

Motus aims to reduce the amount of time students spend sitting while in class.
“We thought, how can we best affect the health of children?” said Alex Asghar, a sophomore architecture major at PhilaU. “And we thought, where do they spend most of their time?”
The group that created Motus, composed mostly of architecture majors, found that many classrooms have adopted a method of teaching called active learning. Motus are desks that enable just this kind of learning, because they aren’t just desks. They’re movable whiteboards. Students can sit, stand, lean over and simply move around while working, no longer confined to the cramped spaces of a small school desk.

3. Generating Hope

The Hippo Water Roller that inspired Generating Hope. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

Generating Hope is a project designed around a life-saving tool that already exists but changes it in a big way. Generating Hope uses a Hippo Water Roller (seen above) and places a kinetic generator on it to create electricity. Much like a wind turbine creates electricity in rural areas, the movement of the water inside the Hippo Roller generates power.
The average distance for a woman in Africa to walk simply to get water is almost four miles. Generating Hope allows those living in impoverished areas of the world to use a preexisting daily task to create electricity.

4. EDUKitchen


A mock-up of EDUkitchen. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

EDUkitchen is exactly what it sounds like: An educational kitchen. As a stand alone, portable desk-like object. EDUkitchen is an interactive tool to teach young children cooking skills.
“What we found in our research,” says Chris Coma, a senior industrial design major at PhilaU, “is that parents and their children are more and more dependent on pre-packaged food.” Fully equipped with a burner, oven, sink, running water and electricity, the EDUkitchen brings to mind the excitement you felt when you saw the AV projector come into your classroom.

5. Fettle


Fettle will visualize the nutritional value of food you buy. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

“When the parents eat healthy, the kids eat healthy as well,” says Sam Pawlak, a PhilaU industrial design senior in the group that created Fettle. Fettle is most simply a personalized shopping app, something that is incorporated into almost every online store.
But what about personalized shopping to help you live longer? That’s Fettle’s unique value proposition.
Fettle is personalized food shopping delivered right to your door. It’s similar to’s AmazonFresh service, with one very distinct advantage: Fettle creates a personal profile for the user and shows how much of each kind of nutritional group you’re getting and gives you recommendations to balance your diet. Eating too much sugar? Why not buy some fruit?

6. Brumie’s International Cuisine

A mockup.

A mock-up. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

Remember Beanie Babies? Remember how you wanted to collect every one? Sure you do. Brumie’s International Cuisine combines everything you love about Beanie Babies with the added benefit of teaching children to cook.
“It was a very easy project. Our team was great,” said Jean Louise Hornberger, a senior industrial design major at PhilaU.
Brumie is a plush stuffed animal with a flag on its chest to represent a country. Each animal is linked to an app on your phone, which allows you to upload your own personal cooking styles and provides personalized recipes from families around the world who own the same animal. A portion of all the proceeds goes to helping those without access to clean food and water.

7. 3Dlish

3Dlish - Bar

The 3D-printed fruit and nut bar, 3Dlish. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

Americans are getting roughly one-third of their daily calories from the empty calories of snack foods.
3Dlish wants to change that fact. The interdisciplinary team created a customizable food bar with ingredients that are healthy: nuts, berries, seeds and so on.
And you can create it yourself. Take any fresh fruit, add vitamins and minerals, grind it down to a jelly and create a 3D object. “We wanted to create something fun for children,” said Louise Sandstroem, a junior industrial design major at PhilaU. Playing with your food is now cool again.

Blackstone LaunchPad Philadelphia supports student entrepreneurship in the Greater Philadelphia region through a partnership between Philadelphia University, Temple University and the University City Science Center.

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