A mind-controlled wheelchair? Geeking out at UNLV’s engineering competition

Edgar Solorio, Adam Wolverton and David Nguyen present the EEG Controlled Wheelchair at the Fall 2014 UNLV Engineering Senior Design Competition.Thursday Dec. 4, 2014.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

Edgar Solorio is spinning a wheelchair with his mind. Seated in an electronic wheelchair on the UNLV campus, the engineering student is showing off his senior design project, an electroencephalography (EEG)-controlled wheelchair designed for people who can’t manipulate a joystick with their hands. A sleek, black headset monitors movements along Solorio’s scalp, and a box on the chair determines when it’s go time. A few minutes into our conversation the chair suddenly starts rolling again. “Oops,” Solorio laughs, “I forgot this was on.”

Solorio and his partners, Adam Wolverton and David Nguyen, make up Team 3db, one of 37 teams in the UNLV College of Engineering’s Fall 2014 Senior Design Competition. Set up around a meeting room, suited students present projects like a solar-powered pool skimmer, a streetcar for Maryland Parkway, an automated bicycle shifter and a device to cool boiling coffee to refrigerated temperatures in under five minutes.

UNLV Engineering Competition

The year-long senior project is important, says College of Engineering Dean Rama Venkat, because students must find an engineering solution to a real-world problem. “It’s the first time they really problem-solve. This is the way the industry works.”

But the competition is about more than putting classroom lessons into practice and winning some cash. It’s also a chance for students to catch the eyes of industry-professional judges, and potentially, to launch their own businesses. Skyworks Aerial Systems, a Vegas-based drone company, grew out of a recent competition.

Plus, adds Team 3db, working on the project was an exciting challenge. “It was fun, it was stressful, it was amazing,” Wolverton says. Almost as amazing as a mind-controlled wheelchair.

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