Two students ‘steer’ idea toward reality

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steer logic
Olivia Sribniak and Anthony Gyke, senior electro-mechanical engineering students at Penn State New Kensington, turned their EMET senior design project into a startup business. The duo created an automated roping dummy robot, formally called "Steer Logic." (Submitted photo)

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — All electro-mechanical engineering technology (EMET) students at Penn State must complete a senior design project as part of graduation requirements.

For two EMET students at Penn State New Kensington, their project has also turned them into budding entrepreneurs and finalists in a competition in April for student-led businesses throughout Penn State.

“The past four years in engineering, we’re taught to learn and approach things a certain way,” said Anthony Gyke, a senior from West Mifflin and veteran of the U.S. Navy. “Now we’re doing this engineering project and bringing business into it. Business is a whole new realm and way of thinking, and that’s where we’ve had to go down a different path.”

Gyke and classmate Olivia Sribniak, a senior from Leechburg, never imagined their design idea would turn into something much more.

Idea

The idea, to create and program an automated team roping practice dummy, came from Sribniak’s personal experiences.

“I come from a long line of cowboys, I guess you could say,” said Sribniak. “All of my uncles team rope, but I never really was into it until about two or three years ago when they said they needed a heeler.”

In nontechnical language, roping competitions normally consist of teams of two riders on horseback, known as “the header” and “heeler,” who work together to rope a cow during a timed competition.

The header is the first person to rope the cow by its horns. The heeler then ropes the cow’s back legs to stop the clock.

Sribniak found that the roping realm is not only expensive, but also inefficient, especially when practicing for events. When using existing practice dummies, only the header or the heeler can practice individually, not together, as they must in competition, and dummies currently aren’t automated, which means they cannot simulate the real movement of the steer.

Steer Logic

In practicing with live steer, added stress is put on the animal as well. These issues are resolved through Gyke and Sribniak’s concept, now formally called Steer Logic.

Their robotic prototype dummy will include three modes: novice, intermediate and advanced.

The idea seemed perfect for the senior design project, which must incorporate electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as automation. Little did they realize, the idea was also perfect for a business concept.

“The whole thing is very unique,” said Joe Cuiffi, assistant teaching professor and program coordinator of EMET at the New Kensington campus.

“That’s the beauty of teaching students to be innovators or entrepreneurs because fun and interesting and potentially even profitable ideas can come from absolutely anywhere. It’s obviously something they’re passionate about, but they also managed to spin that into a great idea. It’s a niche market, and their approach to it is very pragmatic and very engineer-like, but they also took a little leap, and I’m glad they’re exploring it.”

Video

The leap and exploration Cuiffi is referring to is Gyke and Sribniak’s video submission to this year’s Inc.U competition.

Now in its third year, students submit video pitches for their start-up ideas and businesses, which are reviewed by a panel of judges who narrow the field to six finalists. The finalists earn a spot on WPSU’s The Investment television show where they will pitch their ideas aka Shark Tank to a panel of judges for a chance to win significant investment funding.

This year, the competition had 72 submissions, the most it has seen since its inception.

Entrepreneurs

For Gyke and Sribniak, becoming entrepreneurs has added a different learning curve to their project, so they have been reaching out to professors like Cuiffi, as well as peers and faculty members from other academic fields such as corporate communications and business.

The students have also learned a lot about collaboration and working together as a team, even through failures, which has helped Steer Logic grow and become a reality.

“Between us, it’s a love-hate relationship,” joked Gyke. “Honestly, the first 100 things you try to do never work, so don’t give up too soon.”

“I honestly can say that I would not be able to do this project with anyone else,” said Sribniak. “You can’t give up when you hit the first big problem.”

Gyke and Sribniak will be busy in the days leading up to their May graduation. They’ll be taking part in Penn State’s StartUp week events at the end of March, film their spot for The Investment television show April 7, pitch their idea at the Penn State Venture and IP Conference April 19 and have their final senior design project complete April 23.

On top of all that, they have their internships, jobs and other classes.

“I just hope they gain some valuable experience from the project, whether or not they take it forward,” hoped Cuiffi. “What you learn from it is the important part. I think they already have.”

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