Get a bunch of Carnegie Mellon mechanical engineering students together, ask them to design an innovative prototype for a consumer product, and they'll start thinking about what they don't like to do.
"We hate ironing clothes," said Brian Koskey, 21, a senior who is originally from Washington, D.C.
His group's solution to their ironing woes: build a better iron.
Today, Mr. Koskey was among 46 students who presented final prototypes for consumer products in Roberts Engineering Hall at CMU, part of a design competition for seniors.
Students were told at the beginning of the semester to study existing consumer products, then design and create an improved idea for the product, said associate professor Jeremy Michalek.
The semester project yielded nine products, most of which had the potential to make life a little easier if they ever make it to store shelves.
Like the innovative iron, for example.
Ironing is a necessary activity for seniors going on job interviews, but it can be cumbersome to use an iron and 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.
His group took the ironing board out of the equation and created a hybrid steamer and iron with a clip that attaches by magnet. Place the iron against a wrinkled shirt, attach the clip to the other side, and the iron can be moved across or down the shirt without having to maneuver a board into place.
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.
And the idea suggested by Kelle Patterson, 20, and her group, who designed a battery-operated device whose four bristles scrub food from dirty 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.