Imagine if people without dishwashers had ways to clean dishes without scrubbing by hand.
Or if travelers could pack more items in their carry-on luggage -- and avoid paying bag check fees -- by vacuuming the air out of their suitcases with a pump that doubles as a handle.
Or if ironing didn't require an ironing board.
Those consumer daydreams -- and a few more -- were presented in prototype form Monday in Roberts Engineering Hall at Carnegie Mellon University, part of an annual design competition for 46 mechanical engineering seniors.
Associate professor Jeremy Michalek told his students at the beginning of the semester to study existing consumer products, then design and create an improved product.
The assignment in hand, Brian Koskey, 21, and his group started thinking about what they don't like to do and what they could design to make that activity easier.
"We hate ironing clothes," Mr. Koskey said.
So they set out to build a better iron -- one that doesn't involve the cumbersome process of finagling a piece of clothing around an ironing board. For seniors going on job interviews who need a steady supply of ironed clothes, it can be a hassle to set up the ironing board in a small apartment or a dorm room, said John Howland, 24.
"If we own an ironing board, it's either one of the small terrible ones or the large terrible ones," he said.
They took the ironing board out of the equation, and created a hybrid steamer and iron with a clip that attaches by magnet.
Here's how it works: Place the iron against a wrinkled shirt and attach the clip to the other side of the cloth so that the magnet attaches. The iron can be moved across or down the shirt without having to maneuver an ironing board into place.
The group has no patent pending, but members said someone will probably end up keeping the iron.
There were other ideas, such as the one proposed by Dinesh Ayyappan, 22, and his group, who presented an improved bicycle light that can be easily rotated from side to side as needed.
Kelle Patterson, 20, and her group designed a battery-operated device they dubbed the "Scrub Master." The base of the product is placed in the sink, and then its four bristle brushes spin quickly to remove food from plates, bowls, cups and utensils.
She said their target audience is young adults or college students -- two groups that often live in apartments or houses without dishwashers and don't like to clean dishes.
Oscar Chahin, 22, and his group created a suitcase with a vacuum pump to maximize the number of items airplane travelers can fit in their carry-on bags. They figured a more efficiently packed bag would be attractive to college students -- and many other travelers -- who want to avoid paying the cost of checking a bag.
The vacuum pump, which doubles as a handle for the bag, sucks oxygen out of the bag to save space. There's no patent pending yet, but it will be used by at least one traveler.
"One of us will keep it for sure," Mr. Chahin said.
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707.