When experienced entrepreneur Alex Downs of Michigan startup StarAgilis was ready to advance to proof-of-concept stage for a 5G controller for consumer and industrial applications, he sought to maximize design and testing resources and build connections where manufacturing expertise is already strong. His research led him to the Centrepolis Accelerator at Lawrence Technological University in the Southfield City Centre.
Downs connected with Centrepolis Accelerator director Dan Radomski and expert-in-residence Dennis Shaver. To help Downs advance his concept to a physical product, they hatched a unique collaboration with Lawrence Tech’s College of Architecture and Design and College of Engineering. Faculty members from each college embraced the opportunity in different ways.
The team knew the students would not only benefit from cross-disciplinary development of a real physical product but that they’d likely jump at the opportunity, too, given that this controller has an appropriate application in the video-gaming market — gaming being an activity familiar to and enjoyed by many students. Using 5G technology, the product can operate an augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) headset and drone simultaneously, which was not possible under earlier communications protocols.
“We came in with the technology and LTU is really helping us develop it. The students are on track and their output is good,” says Downs, who is originally from New Hampshire but currently lives in Hong Kong. “Our proof-of-concept will be basically proving a novel industry 4.0 application.” The connection with the Centrepolis Accelerator is a good match, as the business development resource exists to support entrepreneurs and established businesses prototype, test and manufacture physical products.
Radomski and Downs worked with Li Chen, adjunct faculty with LTU’s College of Architecture and Design and George Pappas, assistant professor with LTU’s College of Engineering who set to work with students to collaborate and advance the product design. Industrial design students worked in teams to develop the look and feel of the controller while engineering students designed the electrical controls and mechanical placement. Both sets of students needed to pay attention not only to packaging space, but water and humidity intrusion, thermal management and impact resistance.
For students who typically work in silos, the opportunity to collaborate across disciplines and negotiate their needs on behalf of an actual product is a real-world experience, Radomski says. Participating students can go on to use the experience in their own portfolios.
“We really have a captive audience with the students because a lot of them are gamers and they really understand the product,” Downs says. “They have very good insights and they approach it from their own perspective, with a lot of knowledge of what’s on the market right now. This is expertise we can really leverage.”
A grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Business Accelerator Fund, together with financial support from StarAgilis, has funded the hardware and provided stipends for some of the student work, according to Radomski.
Ultimately, the 5G controller could be put to use in construction and industrial applications, and Downs is confident that Michigan is the place to advance his product to the manufacturing stage. With a goal to find partners — in the automotive and medical industries, specifically — StarAgilis is positioned to advance technology and manufacturing in southeast Michigan.
“Our hope is to be part of the ecosystem in Michigan that leads to great connections with great companies and people,” says Downs. “It’s really a people business and finding and attracting talent is very important. We are grateful for LTU for working with us and we appreciate what they are doing for us.”
Learn more about StarAgilis and the Centrepolis Accelerator at Lawrence Technological University at centrepolisaccelerator.com.