Tech House to spark innovation

The Weiss Technology House was funded by a $1.5 million gift from alumnus George Weiss.

The Daily Pennsylvanian
November 08, 2002

Weiss Technology House Faculty Director Karl Ulrich has a vision for a more futuristic Penn, one in which students ride to class on their electric mopeds and then recharge them at the local Starbucks.

As part of the Tech House's inaugural event Wednesday night, Ulrich lectured on personal electronic transport, a form of single-person ground-based transportation ranging from scooters to electrically operated motorcycles.

Ulrich covered a brief history of wheeled devices and the physics involved in ground transport. The Operations and Information Management professor also modeled two inventions from his own company, Nova Cruz, which specializes in electronic vehicles.

The two moped-like devices, the Xootr and Voloci, are part of a new field of electronic transport that the professor promoted in his lecture. The vehicles promise to be convenient and environmentally friendly, the kind of transport Ulrich can see dominating campuses like Penn's in 10 years.

Ulrich concluded his lecture with ideas for students to help improve transport devices. These ideas are only a few of many Ulrich hopes students will work on at the new Tech House.

The Tech House is a spin-off of the Kelly Writers House concept, but with a technological slant. Thanks to a $1.5 million endowment by Wharton alumnus George Weiss that was donated two years ago, the space for the program will open in Levine Hall this January.

Undergraduate student teams with ideas for new inventions will have the opportunity to receive up to $1,000 in funding from the house per project beginning at the end of this month. Projects can cover a broad range of topics, from applications in the media to biotechnology to education.

"Our hope is [that] we'll develop a community where people get to know each other... and create an open platform for all the schools," Tech House Director Anne Stamer said.

In addition to the fund for innovations, Stamer and Ulrich plan to offer lab resources, coaching, skill-training workshops and a basic infrastructure for commercial transactions at the Tech House.

Stamer and Ulrich, along with representatives from each of Penn's schools and many senior faculty members, will work to advise the otherwise student-run organization.

"Kelly Writers House has been a very good model... we really wanted to create [another] model like that for Penn students," Stamer said.

Ulrich's lecture spurred an initial interest in the program, with nearly two dozen students in attendance. The majority of the audience stayed afterwards to learn about leadership opportunities at the Tech House.

"I know a lot of students have really good ideas and innovations and having a house like this is pretty helpful. [Students] can move from the idea stage to doing something about it," Wharton and Engineering junior Filbert Cua commented.

Engineering senior Shin Kamaya is one of those students. "My goal in college was to build something, and without Tech House, the possibilities were somewhat limited. The Tech House gives students exactly the opportunities [they need] to be innovative," Kamaya said.

Kamaya plans to apply for funding from the Tech House for his sporting equipment ideas.