WMU engineering student one of nine nationwide invited to competition

Contact: Mark Schwerin
Photo of Nicolas Theoret.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A Western Michigan University engineering student was among nine college students from North America invited to take part recently in an elite competition.

Nicolas Theoret, a senior in mechanical engineering, was tapped for the Magna Student Innovation Challenge coinciding with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nine finalists were selected for the competition and were challenged with imagining what their lives will be like in 15 years and developing an idea or new feature for the car of 2030.

About the competition

Theoret and the other finalists were divided into three teams. Theoret's team came in second, with each team member taking home a cash prize. The competition was open to students in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Over 1,000 students applied by submitting a 500-word essay, describing their idea along with three pages of supporting material.

"We had three days to come up with an idea, come up with supporting materials and make a business plan for it and present it before judges," Theoret says. "So it was tense, to say the least."

Theoret ended up presenting a plan for an interactive interface between the driver and the windshield that they called "MagnaGlass." The safety enhancement tool was envisioned to make driving safer for a range of demographic groups, from teens to adults to seniors.

In addition to having a traditional protective windshield, the MagnaGlass windshield would be equipped with switchable glass technology that could be adjusted to eliminate glare from the sun and improve driver visibility, and organic light-emitting diodes or OLEDs and a touchscreen layer to provide digital guidance for drivers, including instructions and directions on a window display, sensors identifying hazards and other potential problems and an alert system.

The MagnaGlass windshield would promote safety for all drivers, but would be especially helpful to new and older motorists.

"Essentially, it would provide an interactive interface between the driver and his environment via the windshield," Theoret says. "It would help new, inexperienced drivers watch out for certain things that they might not know to look for and also could help senior drivers by making things bigger or more visible with a hypersensitive interface. The idea was to get rid of the dashboard completely so your speedometer and all those things are on your windshield and you have the capability of making them bigger or changing the outlook of your displays."

In addition to competing, Theoret and fellow finalists spent their time meandering through the Consumer Electronics Show and networking with industry leaders. He says he didn't get much sleep during three days filled with both competition and inspiration and research.

"Being at CES, they let us walk around, so we got to be inspired by all the new technology and new innovations around the exposition," he says. "It's a couple of square miles of just booth upon booth of new technology coming to the market. So it's quite amazing."

Nicolas theoret

Theoret was born in Montreal, Canada, but has spent the second half of his life in Rochester Hills and Lansing before coming to WMU.

He plans to use some of the money he won to start his own high-tech hardware or software company with Cody Middleton, an electrical engineering student. He plans to graduate in fall 2016.

"We'd like to stay in Michigan, for sure," he says. "I think the east side of the state has the best connections to the automotive industry. But you can start a company from anywhere nowadays. We're already analyzing market trends. The opportunities are everywhere. When the time comes, it's going to be what's the hottest thing or what kind of products can we put out there to make a difference."

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