PhilaU Students Advance the Future of Digitally Connected Homes in Verizon Industry Challenge


Senior finance major Sinthujaa Emmanual Edward discusses the Unison project with Verizon’s Paul Sullivan.

With ideas as diverse as an interactive bathroom and a gesture-recognition cooking assistant, five teams of Philadelphia University students developed technologies to advance the future of the internet-connected home for millennials as part of a Verizon industry challenge this semester.

The students presented their projects to Verizon representatives, faculty, students and others May 2 in the DEC Forum. The top three teams–Unison, Converse and Smart Bathroom–will display their work at the Verizon Philadelphia University Celebration of Innovation on Saturday, May 7.

The multidisciplinary teams were made up of about 60 students, including graduate students in industrial design and business administration and undergraduate students in engineering, fashion merchandising and management, finance and marketing.

In seven-minute pitches followed by a brief Q&A from the Verizon panel, the PhilaU teams presented these projects:

  • Converse: A system of directional speaker units with stereo microphones placed throughout the home to allow for hands-free communication.
  • Smart Bathroom: A system of connected bathroom products centralized through a smart mirror for human interaction; it measures and detects heart rate, body mass index, indoor humidity, wet floors and more.
  • Unison: A system that unifies the smart-home ecosystem and optimizes the use of technology for life assistance.
  • Sous-Chef: A cooking assistant that uses both voice and gesture recognition to guide users through recipes and training.
  • Vhome: A connected home solution that focuses on baby and pet safety, as well as air quality.

After closely reviewing all the concepts, the winning projects were selected by the Verizon team, which included Rose Kirk, chief corporate social responsibility officer and president, Verizon Foundation; Paul Sullivan, vice president, wireline operations; Sai Yagnyamurthy, director, strategy, development and planning; and Shamik Basu, director of emerging technology.

Yagnyamurthy applauded all the students for their excellent design work, incorporating Verizon’s culture of providing superior consumer experiences into their projects and displaying unbridled energy and uninhibited thinking.

“They are the future of our nation, and their voice in terms of what they deem useful in their lives is really important for companies like Verizon,” Yagnyamurthy said.


Verizon’s Rose Kirk tries out the Sous-Chef project at the presentation.

In particular, he said he was interested in how technology can help simplify people’s lives by making information pervasive, thinking about or doing things on our behalf, increasing productivity and, importantly, decreasing stress and promoting a healthier lifestyle.

The project challenged students to have a well-thought-out business rationale to support their product, said Neil Harner, director of PhilaU’s animation and interaction program. While Verizon officials admired the diversity of ideas presented, the winning projects shared “a clear connection” as a viable product within Verizon’s product and service offerings.

Mark Sunderland, Robert J. Reichlin High-Performance Apparel Chair and director of academic operations for the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, noted the benefits to both students and Verizon for their participation in the Nexus Industry Challenge.

“The opportunity to collaborate and innovate with a company like Verizon is a terrific learning experience for our students,” he said. “The way in which Philadelphia University manages, directs and executes Nexus industry projects with real deliverables and value raises our profile as a university in the real world working with real industry.”

The students began the process early in the semester, first researching the millennial demographic and the definition of “home” for this audience, Harner said.

The students then had to identify two issues that exist in the home that can be solved through the use of internet-connected technologies, he said. By midterm, they had to present two high-level concepts for products that could feasibly solve the identified problems. After a review by Verizon, the student teams each focused on a single concept to develop as a final product.

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