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MIT Innovation Blog

The 2018 InCube Competition

  • Jordan Harrod, PhD student in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics

In case you were wondering why people were living in a glass cube in front of Stata …

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a fishbowl?

The weekend of Sept. 21, Paolo Adajar ’21, Eswar Anandapadmanaban ’19, Sam Solomon ’20, Erica Yuen G, and I ate, slept, and worked in a glass cube on North Court for four days. This was the 2018 InCube Competition, an international hackathon / pitch competition led by ETH Zurich Entrepreneur Club. There were five cubes, each with a different challenge from its respective sponsor.

Our challenge, sponsored by Stryker, was to design the ambulance of the future. Over the four days, we met with paramedics from ProEMS, medical directors in the Boston area, engineers and designers from Stryker, and you! If you walked by the cube while we were there, there was a good chance we would come out to see what you thought of our work.

We got some interesting questions over the four days, some of which I’ll answer here:

  • Is this a reality TV show / social experiment? It’s not a reality TV show, but it could definitely be considered a social experiment.
  • Where do you go to the bathroom / shower? Stata, using our towel cards in the gym to save packing space.
  • Where do you sleep? In the cube — the couches fold out into queen size beds, and the footrest in the middle folds out into a single bed!
  • Can you really not leave? We can leave for the bathroom / shower / interviews / taking a break, but we spent the majority of the four days in the cube.
  • What about classes? Aren’t you going to be behind on psets? Let’s not talk about that

Personally, the idea of living in a glass cube to complete an entrepreneurial challenge intrigued me from the first time I saw a flyer for the competition (as was the free trip to Zurich and Crans-Montana, Switzerland). As a PhD student in Medical Engineering, I think the design process should be open and inclusive, with potential solutions refined using input from engineers, clinicians, and patients alike. This cube was the physical manifestation of that ethos, allowing us to show the public what we were working on in real time, receive input and feedback from a variety of stakeholders, and engage with anyone who happened to be walking by.

We went from more than 200 ideas on Friday to one idea on Monday morning, all while getting a decent amount of sleep on our designer furniture (credit to BoConcept in Cambridge). One member of our team even went on an ambulance shift with paramedics for several hours, just to get an idea of what unseen design or engineering problems exist in real 911 calls for paramedics. A GoPro in the cube recorded most of our experiences, but I think we can all agree that some of that footage will never see the light of day.

On Monday morning, it was time to pitch our idea! You can see our pitch here, but to summarize, we proposed a startup that integrated vital monitoring systems to make it easier for paramedics to take care of patients in-transit. Our pitch was recorded and sent to Zurich, where the four other teams presented their pitches live. After a Q&A session with the judging panel and a reflection on the experiences of the other teams, we were excited to learn that we’d won second place in the competition!

I’m writing this on Wednesday, and I saw the construction crew begin taking down the cube as I walked to Stata this morning. While I am extremely happy to have returned to my mattress at home, seeing the cube being taken down was bittersweet. In such a short time and small space, Erica, Eswar, Paolo, Sam, and I quickly became entrepreneurs and even more quickly became friends. When the cube comes back to MIT next year (fingers crossed), I look forward to seeing what the next set of participants has in store.

Thanks to Signe Lin Vehusheia, Benoît Jordan, Phillipe Nicollier, Arno Schneuwly, Tom Luly, Gene Keselman, The ETH Entrepreneur Club, MIT Innovation Initiative, Stryker, ProEMS, all of the other participants in Switzerland, and everyone who stopped by to stare into the glass or talk to us!

Jordan Harrod is a first-year PhD student in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics. She can be found at her website or on Twitter @jordanbharrod.

Image: Emily Levenson

This article originally appeared in The Tech, issue 22 volume 138. It may be freely distributed electronically as long as it includes this notice but cannot be reprinted without the express written permission of The Tech. Write to archive@tech.mit.edu for additional details