The third cohort of MDE students presents their Independent Design Engineering Projects (IDEP). These projects demonstrate prototypes for addressing some of the most vexing problems of our time. IDEP work requires the synthesis and application of design and engineering methods for examining and understanding a problem, developing solutions, and assessing the degree to which these solutions address the problem that has been framed. This year 17 students worked on 15 different projects in the areas of personal and community empowerment, sustainability, safety, as well as ageing, involving local stakeholders as well as working with groups internationally in Japan, Ecuador, Mexico, and Colombia. 

Martin Bechthold
Kumagai Professor of Architectural Technology, GSD
Director of the Doctor of Design Studies Program and the Master in Design Engineering Program

Woodward Yang 
Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, SEAS, and HBS University Fellow

Mia Zaidan


Rethinking Relationships and Social Interaction Systems

Advised by Arianna Mazzeo (SEAS) and Kevin Kit Parker (SEAS)

Over the past few decades, technology has redefined the way people meet, interact, and develop relationships, making it extremely simple for its users to meet others from the comfort of their couch. However, the same technology is increasing levels of loneliness and isolation because we end up spending more time on our devices and less time with each other. By investigating the systems that dating apps are developing to match, connect, and make people meet in real life, modern encounters can be better understood.

When dissecting the users’ behaviors, acceptance and validation emerge as the ultimate needs they are trying to satisfy. These manifest themselves differently from one person to the other, often creating a mismatch in expectations. From a systemic viewpoint, the superficial generic profiles result in a lack of involvement in user journey.

I propose a disruptive strategy to create new types of social encounters, where your profile is designed to depict your lifestyle rather than your looks. Asa user, you get the power to shape and design your experience while preserving the spontaneity of the encounter. The new matching platform I am proposing is a systemic design intervention. When you go online, you select the type of encounter and activity that you are looking for. Matching happens instantly: you are presented with online users who are available now, in your immediate area, with similar expectations.

Instant matching, simple encounters, real people.

Mia Zaidan, MDE. Three smart phones with the words "profile, match by type, now matching," and showing multiple buttons and sliding scale choices.

Taylor Greenberg Goldy


Gem: Equipping Family Caregivers with the Tools to Engage and Care for Dementia

Advised by Arianna Mazzeo (SEAS) and Fawwaz Habbal (SEAS)

In the US alone, there are 15 million unpaid family caregivers supporting six million loved ones with dementia. These caregivers are faced with an incredible challenge of balancing their own lives and caring for their spouse/loved one for years on end. Unfortunately, with that balance comes high levels of stress, fear, and burnout among family caregivers because, in part, they feel discouraged that their care can make a difference in their loved one’s well-being and don’t feel confident in their ability to care effectively. After understanding different interventions to help caregivers and care recipients, I learned that cognitive therapies (i.e., reminiscence, music, and storytelling) have the potential to improve mood and slow down the of decline of dementia symptoms. Gem, my solution, is an interactive, personalized digital tool that utilizes cognitive therapies and creates a “learning-by-doing” activity for new family caregivers to do remotely or in person with their loved one with dementia. The goal of this tool is not only to provide training wheels for new caregivers on how to do cognitive therapies, but also to provide companionship and resilience for families in this situation.

Taylor Greenberg Goldy, MDE. Image of an electronic tablet screen with the words, "Let's Begin! We've tailored activities for you and your mom to do together." To the right are two icons showing a Caregiver and a Care recipient under the word "Gem"

Jacob Schonberger and Mengxi Tan


SimpleFuture: Providing Better Financial Future

Advised by Jock Herron (GSD), Krzysztof Gajos (SEAS), and David Eaves (HKS)

Do you feel confident that you have claimed all refunds, collected all interests, managed every financing account, deposited every check, and utilized every prepaid gift card? If not, you probably have some money in the $60 billion “unclaimed property” pool.

Unclaimed property is considered to be assets that are abandoned by their owner (typically for three to five years depending on the asset). The abandoned property is transferred to the state treasury and turned into cash equivalents. The treasury can treat this money as revenue, but legally must make this money available to be found and “claimed” by its original owner.

Each state has its own claims process, but typically returns only about 4.5 percent of the total pool of unclaimed property. Such a low claim rate is due to a combination of low awareness, confusing claim processes, inefficiency in program structure, predatory activities, and lack of trust.

By introducing financial services into the ecosystem, SimpleFuture redesigns the unclaimed property system to be more efficient and user friendly while improving customers’ relationships with their banks.

Jacob Schonberger and Mengxi Tan, MDE. Simplefuture. Several smartphone screens showing including the words, "Here's how your money is doing." "We found $500 under your name." "What is unclaimed property?" "Authorize to Claim." "Today's Credit Card Usage $19.62" An info box shows the words "State Treasuries, Bank, Match, Verify, Transfer."
Jacob Schonberger and Mengxi Tan, MDE. SimpleFuture is a proactive B2B financial system that returns Unclaimed Property to the rightful owners. It is a design that brings value to the government, the financial institutions and the people.
Jacob Schonberger and Mengxi Tan, MDE. In the US, only 4.5% of the $60B Unclaimed Property is returned every year. We worked with the Massachusetts Unclaimed Property division to design a new system to raise the claim rate.
Jacob Schonberger and Mengxi Tan, MDE. Instead of having users looking for Unclaimed Property, Unclaimed Property records now “look for” their owners. In the new flow, commercial banks, introduced as high-incentive stakeholders, help their customers search and claim Unclaimed Property through a secure data pipeline.
Jacob Schonberger and Mengxi Tan, MDE. For the banks, a first built deliverable is a dashboard documenting the key metrics on Unclaimed Property match, allowing them to have an overview of the impact.
Jacob Schonberger and Mengxi Tan, MDE. A second built deliverable for the banks is a notification system to reach out to customers, improving customer relationship and brand image perception.

David Gomez-Gil



Advised by Fawwaz Habbal (SEAS) and Arianna Mazzeo (SEAS)

Although digital technology presents a great opportunity to today’s civil society, NGOs working with vulnerable communities in the city of Medellin, Colombia, lag behind other NGOs worldwide in their leverage of digital technologies as a means to amplify their impact agendas. To understand why this happens, I have engaged in fieldwork and interviews with several actors and stakeholders in Medellin’s local social ecosystem. This research has led me to interesting systemic insights; the main one being that the barriers for NGOs in Medellin to further leverage digital technology are not related to technological ignorance, but rather to the lack of novel partnerships within the local ecosystem that can provide digital applications to make up for the lack of their own resources.

Impacta is my answer to the question on how we might provide local NGOs in Medellin with partnerships that allow them to benefit from custom-designed digital applications. Impacta is a service that allows groups of local engineering students and NGOs in the city of Medellin to engage in a design process to develop a custom-designed digital application for the NGO and the community it serves. As a service, Impacta is made up of three components: (1) Digital Platform, (2) Analogue Design Process, and (3) Impacta Organization. As a way to test the main component of this solution, the design process, I have conducted a proof of concept with a local NGO, Arreciclar, that represents more than 300 sanitation workers in the city of Medellin, and a group of 18 engineering students from EIA University.

David Gomez-Gil, MDE. Computer screenshot of the home page of Impacta. Headings include: About Impacta, Do You Have A Challenge?, and Want To Participate?

Berlynn Bai


Fugue: Knowledge is Beautiful

Advised by Jock Herron (GSD) and Cesar A. Hidalgo (SEAS)

The pursuit of knowledge is an everyday endeavor and a lifelong journey. It’s more than pinning an idea, bookmarking an article, or just making notes. It is, in fact, an integrated, iterative, and reflective process that constitutes a diverse range of learning activities. Fugue, an all-in-one knowledge management platform with an ambitious vision of effectively converting information to knowledge, presents a future where everyone can enjoy the beauty of knowledge regardless of the physical distance. With its responsive environment that incorporates learning activities, such as information gathering, categorizing, organizing, discovering, and connecting altogether, Fugue aims to enhance individuals’ learning experiences in the digital age, and help people take knowledge inputs creatively, effectively, and reflectively.

Berlynn Bai, MDE. A computer screenshot. On the left under the heading "Mind Space" a number of recently viewed article titles are listed. On the right is a calendar page of tasks under the heading "Friday February 28"
Berlynn Bai, MDE. A computer screenshot. On the left under the heading "Mind Space" a number of recently viewed article titles are listed. On the right is a calendar page of tasks under the heading "Friday February 28." To the left of the screenshot are the words "Home for your knowledge footprints."

Anahide Nahhal and Mitsue Elisa Guerrero Monsalve


An Integrated Smart-Water System for Mexico City’s Hydric Crisis

Advised by Cesar A. Hidalgo (SEAS) and Ingeborg Rocker (GSD)

Water is essential to life on Earth. When life and activity are growing, however, the quantity of drinkable water in the world is limited. A 2018 UN report shows that by 2050, half of the global population will suffer from a potable water shortage. The global water crisis is starting to hit the most vulnerable countries and people.

With its demographic increase, Mexico City is one of the cities that will suffer the most from this high water stress. Paradoxically, this city, which was once a water-based city built on a lake, will run out of water in 30 years. This crisis will impact more than 30 million inhabitants in a city challenged by inequality.

Taking a closer look at the water system, we can observe that Mexico Cityis not using its natural water resources sustainably, and this imbalance is leading to a water crisis. Following extensive academic, stakeholder, and extreme-user research, we discovered that water is not perceived as a finite resource. We hypothesize that a tool could help raise awareness of the high water stress and the inequalities in the city, and improve consumption behavior

We are designing an integrated solution to empower citizens with their accountability to their water rights, making water distribution fair and participatory. This solution will include a physical individual IoT smart meter system to provide the missing data, a cap-and-trade water consumption system to distribute water rights equally, and a smartphone application designed using behavioral science to educate on sustainable individual water consumption.

Models and simulations will help us understand the scalability, efficiency, and, later, replicability of this integrated solution.

Anahide Nahhal and Mitsue Elisa Guerrero Monsalve, MDE. Designing for Mexico City's Hydric crisis. An assemblage of items including two smartphones, a map, a copper pipe with an oblong glass shape on top of it, water quality testing items, and an infographic of water sources and usage.

Togo Kida


Phantom: An AI-Based Creative Agent to Support Ideation

Advised by Jock Heron (GSD) and Arianna Mazzeo (SEAS)

Creativity is regarded as one of the most valuable resources in business that brings innovation. However, being able to exercise creative capabilities is a tough task. For example, creative teams working in advertising industries are constantly under pressure to generate many ideas in a short time. Teams lack the right tools to ideate more, better quality ideas. Looking deeper into their process of ideation, the process is often solitary and time-consuming. Is there a new creative process that could be designed with the use of technologies? In order to overcome this difficulty in exercising creativity, I propose an AI-powered text editor that helps the user produce more creative outputs. The text editor is equipped with different AI models that respond to the user’s input and generate additional context, which the user can inspect to be further inspired. Through this project, I propose a new process of ideation and an interaction model between the user and the AI.

Togo Kida, MDE. Graphic of white circles joined together by white lines on a black background.
Togo Kida, MDE. Logo of the Phantom project.
Togo Kida, MDE. Interface design of the Phantom project.

Oliver Luo


Exemplar: An RPG (Role-Playing Game) Model and Hub that Prepares and Empowers Esports Players as Exemplary Teammates

Advised by Allen Sayegh (GSD) and Michael D. Smith (SEAS)

Building stronger teamwork in competitive esports games through communication roleplaying

Esports, as a form of sports competition over video games, has exploded in popularity in the last decade. The dominant format of short matches between two teams of players picked via a combination of manual team formation and automatic matching by algorithms has attracted both amateurs playing for fun as well as professional esports athletes vying for prize pools in the tens of millions of dollars. This growth in popularity is accompanied by a rise in prevalence of negatively disruptive—or “toxic” as it is known among veteran gamers—player behaviors. These acts of disruption occur over in-game communication channels accessible to players prior to, during, and immediately after matches. While these communication channels were meant to build camaraderie and coordinate strategy, they can become channels for microaggressions and even threats to one’s physical safety and personal privacy. The current measures that systemically address this problem are largely reactionary in nature, which could be appropriate for severe offenses but are not very effective for less severe behaviors that over time normalize and reinforce this “toxic” culture. The root cause of this disruption is complex. From my research, I identified that most of the incidents of disruption happen among players within the same team, in the form of text/voice aggression triggered by poor performance and/or team coordination and sent over an impoverished player communication channel. To address this challenge, I propose Exemplar, a roleplaying platform that prepares teammates for positive contributions before a battle and fosters team reflection and learning after the battle. By strengthening team communication and coordination, the Exemplar platform enlists players of high-intensity esports games in building better gameplay experiences and healthier gaming communities.

Oliver Luo, MDE. Title image of Exemplar
Oliver Luo, MDE. Players are assigned team communication roles before entering battle
Oliver Luo, MDE. Players return to the Exemplar after battle to review team communication
Oliver Luo, MDE. Diagram of Exemplar intervention immediately before and after an esports match
Oliver Luo, MDE. Teaser video for Exemplar

Zongheng Sun



Advised by Jock Herron (GSD) and Luba Greenwood (SEAS)

Seer™ is a ready-to-use augmented system to help motorists and cyclists share increasingly congested urban streets more safely. In most cities, road capacity has not changed materially for the better part of a century. For much of that time, cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians and, to a lesser extent, bicycles shared urban streets with some success. Over the past decade, however, new transportation alternatives have emerged that increased street congestion and boosted the risks for everyone using our streets. Examples include ride-sharing services and light vehicles such as bikes, e-bikes, and scooters. Seer is focused on bicycle safety, initially focusing on greater Cambridge with a view toward addressing the challenge in all urban areas.

The current version of Seer is a communication system designed to reduce risk during a major transition phase of urban transportation. Eventually, sensor- rich, autonomous vehicles will likely be the norm. Automated vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian communications should make using urban streets safer. For the foreseeable future, however, risks will continue to rise. By enabling cyclists to communicate their intentions automatically using lasers, the tool will efficiently establish safety zones with cars, other vehicles, and pedestrians.

After exploring different alternatives—for example, helmet signaling and bicycle-to-car signaling—the initial product uses twin laser beams to highlight a safe buffer separating bicycles and cars as well as pedestrians. The width of the buffer expands to reflect greater risks associated with turning. The project includes functional prototyping, user testing, plans for system implementation, and some speculation about future opportunities.

Zongheng Sun, MDE. A bicycle shown from the tail end. A device with the word "Seer" is attached to the seatpost. A bright pink line is projected on the ground on either side of the bicycle.
Zongheng Sun, MDE. Seer™ is a ready-to-use augmented system to help motorists and cyclists share increasingly congested urban streets more safely. It’s a transitional solution for now, but the first leap to connect the bicycle into autonomous urban mobility in the future.
Zongheng Sun, MDE. Observations on Cambridge’s streets indicate that there are multiple problems when motorists and cyclists share the road.
Zongheng Sun, MDE. Seer 1.0 is a proof of concept which consists of an accelerometer, micro controller, and kinetic laser module.

Zongheng Sun, MDE. From Seer 1.0 to version 2.3, iterations on design, package, function, and cost saving have enabled Seer to be a competitive product that usable and useful.
Zongheng Sun, MDE. This video illustrates features, design process, and components of the latest version of Seer.