students in lab
Salman Alotaibi and Yaqoub Bushehri with a 3-D printed component part of their project.

Often, some of the best answers are the simplest ones. That's particularly true for senior design, which challenges students to solve an issue or build a product through engineering.

After pitching their senior design project during the recent Fox School of Business Innovative Idea Competition, mechanical engineering students Salman Alotaibi and Yaqoub Bushehri got instant feedback that let them know they were on the right track.

"This random guy approached me after, he said he hiked and backpacked religiously," Bushehri said, describing the man who represented their target audience. "He told me he wished he had thought of this."

Their idea that went on to win both the overall prize and crowd favorite? Pure Trip: a lightweight, portable washing machine for travelers. Specifically, the team described their potential market to stem from an estimated 2.1 million American backpackers who describe themselves as "frequent" participants in the activity.

The specs paint one picture: five pounds, and going from four inches to one-foot in total height, thanks to a slinky design to save space. The machine, powered by a six-volt battery, was the product of entrepreneurial spirit and design thinking. The latter is a methodology of engineering design based in solving a problem.

Alotabi—who already holds a few patents, including one with Ford Motor Company—added that the team decided relatively early to incorporate cost-efficiencies like 3-D printing in-house, rather than outsourcing. They also detailed possibilities for additional application.

"This could certainly go further than backpacking," Bushehri said. "A military battalion could have one person carry the machine and the entire battalion could benefit, or third-world countries where people wear their clothes for long period of time could find use."

The team's idea was chosen over submissions from the entire university community, including faculty and staff. Another College of Engineering student, Paul Gehret (BioE, 18), took first place in the undergraduate track for his Mouse Motel project, an updated version of a glue-based mouse trap.