FAU Student Finalist in ‘2021 Collegiate Inventors Competition®’

Wooden Utility Poles, Power Poles, Invention, Collegiate Competition, Undergraduate Student, Ultrasonic Waves, Inventors Competition, ACUTIS

Matthew Maggio has invented a novel method to non-invasively, safely and efficiently inspect wooden utility poles using ultrasonic waves.

By gisele galoustian | 9/28/2021

Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science’s Matthew Maggio is one of five undergraduate national finalists of the “2021 Collegiate Inventors Competition®,” a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame®. The Collegiate Inventors Competition recently announced the finalists for this annual competition.

Collegiate Inventors Competition encourages and drives innovation and entrepreneurship at the collegiate level and recognizes and rewards the research, innovations and discoveries by college students and their advisers for projects leading to inventions that have the potential of receiving patent protection. Introduced in 1990, the competition has awarded more than $1 million to students for their innovative work and scientific achievement through the help of its sponsors.

Maggio’s invention, “Air-Coupled Ultrasonic Transduction Inspection System” (ACUTIS), provides a novel method to safely and efficiently inspect wooden utility poles using ultrasonic waves. His invention is a spinoff from a project he presented at the FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science’s “Senior Design Showcase” as well as the “FAU NSF I-CORPS Competition” organized by FAU’s Division of Research. His project advisors are Hari Kalva, Ph.D., associate chair and professor in FAU’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science , and Regina Thompson, strategic and economic initiatives manager, Office of Research Development, FAU Division of Research.

“I am both honored and excited to be selected as a finalist of the Collegiate Inventors Competition for my invention and I am deeply grateful for the support of my advisors Dr. Kalva and Regina. As engineers we strive to identify solutions and ACUTIS could provide a major shift in how energy inspections will be conducted,” said Maggio. “Currently, there is no other system designed that uses air-coupled ultrasound that is not destructive to utility poles during the internal evaluation process. Moreover, the major advantage of ACUTIS is its potential to provide a continuous, real-time assessment along with the entire vertical profile of a wooden pole while remaining non-contact and non-invasive.” 

Wooden utility poles are subject to rot, holes, cracks and other defects, both above and below ground, increasing the risk of power outages and making poles unsafe for utility workers. In contrast to standard inspection methods, which are inefficient and can introduce new injuries to the wood, Maggio’s ACUTIS provides a different way to identify unserviceable poles. The ultrasonic waves penetrate the wood’s interior and detect defects without changing the integrity of the structure, allowing energy providers to reliably maintain service and ensure safety. The ultrasonic waves can detect defects and other anomalies as small as 4 millimeters, providing inspectors with quantifiable and accurate results, which they might otherwise miss with other methods. 

Currently, inspection crews usually conduct invasive and below-ground internal inspections using steel rods. The most utilized method to inspect wooden utility poles is called a “hammer test,” where poles are “sounded” with a hammer to detect internal decay and the extent of the decay. Each pole must be fully excavated to 18 inches deep to determine the extent of the decay at the groundline. Alternative testing methods also include electrical resistance, X-ray scan, impulse radar and sonic waves.

“Matthew is an inspiration and we are thrilled that he has been selected as one of the top five national undergraduate collegiate finalists for this prestigious program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame,” said Stella Batalama, Ph.D., dean, FAU College of Engineering and Computer Science. “Innovation profoundly changes lives for the better and Matthew’s invention will provide a major solution to a real-world problem that impacts us globally.” 

Maggio will be competing against finalists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University, University of Texas at Austin, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 13 during a “virtual” presentation of his invention. The finalists will present their inventions to a panel of final-round judges composed of the most influential inventors and invention experts in the nation — National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees and United States Patent and Trademark Office  officials. Winning teams will be announced on Oct. 14.

Each year, individuals representing a broad cross-section of technological fields serve as first-round judges, evaluating entries based on originality of the idea, process, level of student initiative, and potential value and usefulness to society.

“The senior design course sequence in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science provides an ideal environment and resources for students like Matthew to develop impactful solutions for real-world problems,” said Kalva.

Established in 1990, the Collegiate Inventors Competition is sponsored by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and Arrow Electronics (Arrow Electronics People’s Choice Award).

Matthew Maggio

Matthew Maggio, an undergraduate student in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.