University of Pittsburgh
March 18, 2001


Contact:  412-624-4147

Pittsburgh, March 2 -- For the second time in three years, the University of Pittsburgh School of Engineering will send two student teams to the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance's (NCIIA) annual "March Madness for the Mind," at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History, on March 7, from

10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Sponsored by the Lemelson Foundation, the NCIIA invites teams of student inventors—called E-teams—from more than 180 colleges and universities across the country to showcase the most innovative and technologically advanced inventions at an exhibition coinciding with its annual meeting. This year, 15 teams were selected to participate in the exhibition. Stanford University, with three, is the only college sending more E-teams to the exhibition than Pitt.

This year, Pitt teams are sending an intelligent "keyless key" which functions like an automatic garage door opener, but with much greater security, and a low-power energy harvester, which could enable small electrical appliances such as TV and VCR remote controls to operate without batteries. The energy harvester represents a major modification on one of Pitt's winners from two years ago.

"We're delighted to have two projects selected again this year," said Marlin Mickle, Pitt professor of Electrical Engineering and an advisor to both student E-teams. "It's a testimony to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of our students, as well as to the quality of their work."

Keyless Key

The Keyless Key is an automatic door opener, which could be a boon for physically challenged persons, or a convenience for persons carrying objects and unable open the door. Law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, and fire fighters could find that the time spent fumbling for keys, opening doors, and starting vehicles is eliminated with the Keyless Key.

The Keyless Key consists of two parts: a spring loaded door latch with an electronic base receiver in the door; and a small electronic chip that attaches to a watch, jewelry, or any hard surface. The receiver continuously monitors an area—adjustable by the user—to detect the presence of the chip. If such a chip is in the area, the door will interrogate the chip to determine whether it is authorized to enter.

The chip is more sophisticated than typical garage door openers that can allow unauthorized devices to "break" the code. The base receiver changes the entry code after each door opening, and the base receiver and the "key" contain cooperating hardware to ensure only the authorized key will validate and open the door.

The Keyless Key team consisted of electrical engineering students Dave Reed and Carl Taylor, supervised by Assistant Professor Raymond Hoare and Professor Marlin Mickle.

Energy Harvesting Remote Control

As coffee tables become covered by hand held remotes to operate TVs, VCRs, radios, and video games, these wireless devices use more and more batteries, providing a continuing expense and requiring the disposal of a potentially unfriendly pollutant. Meanwhile, the typical living room has a considerable amount of energy to power these devices.

Pitt's All Light Team designed a controller to harness the light—a concept known as energy harvesting—in the home for power and communications. This controller uses no batteries and communicates with visible or infrared light.

Both the power supply and the communication of this device are provided through light, resulting in a device that is powered on its own and does not need wires to supply the signals to the processor.

The team of electrical engineering students Dan Ulinski and Lorenz Neureuter worked with Professor Marlin Mickle and Associate Professor Ron Hoelzeman on the All Light team.

Two years ago, Pitt projects included a simulator for testing the wear of ankle joint replacement components and an e-team to design a very low power network.

The Lemelson Foundation, which sponsors the NCIIA and the exhibition, is a private philanthropy established by one of the country's most prolific inventors, Jerome Lemelson, and his family, to stimulate the U.S. economy and secure its position in the global marketplace by creating the next generation of inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs whose good ideas and new devices, products, and processes will provide the basis for new companies and job creation into the next century.



Electronic versions of photos of the teams and their inventions are available at