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Student Profile: Cole Smith

DSC08003 - Version 2Cole Smith of Charlottesville, Virginia is a May 2016 graduate with a bachelors in Industrial Design in the School of Architecture + Design. Growing up in a UVA household led him to believe he would never attend Virginia Tech. After participating in the Math, Engineering, & Science Academy at Albemarle High School, Smith started researching Industrial Design programs and discovered the one here. After working in the design industry for five to ten years, he hopes to one day become a design professor.

What led you to choose Virginia Tech?

I came and checked out the Industrial Design program here, and I saw the white table. It’s this big white table down in the studio and there’s a big plastic sheet on top where they put really good sketches, so that whenever you’re drawing or sketching something, you’re doing it on top of this big pile of really good sketches that other students have done. I saw that and thought to myself, ‘I want to be able to do that. I’m going to go here because they can do that.’ That was the really inspiring thing – seeing all of the work that the students were doing.

What is your favorite part about your major?

I like being able to work on so many different things – I think that’s the most interesting part. You can take this process and apply it to almost anything. To me at least, the variety in products is so much more than the variety in buildings. I feel like the forms are all completely different from one another, and you’re working at different scales all the time. You could design a car or you could design a cell phone. I like being able to take this process and apply it to different things.

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on at Virginia Tech?

The finite faucet. The goal is to improve health, save water, and convince other people to save water on their own. It replaces those automatic faucets you see all the time.

The way it works is – it has a big cylinder on the top that fills up with water, and when you turn it on it closes the valve to the cylinder and drains the water out. Then, you have to turn off the faucet to have it refill. You put your hand under the faucet and it gives you just enough water for you to get your hands wet, and when you close it, the amount of time it takes to refill is the exact amount of time the CDC recommends for you to wash your hands with soap. Then you turn it back on and you can rinse your hands. It makes you wash your hands the correct way and, statistically, 95% of people don’t wash their hands after leaving a restroom. This addresses that problem. It uses 12% of the water that most people use when washing their hands.

What is your most recent project?

It’s probably the cutest project I’ve ever worked on. It’s a service dog vest where they pull a ball to send out an alert. Some seizure alert dogs can actually tell if their owner is going to have a seizure, like an hour beforehand or more. We don’t have any technology that can do this so far – it’s only dogs that have this ability, and only some of them.

We have this service dog vest, where, if something goes wrong or the dog senses that something might go wrong, they can activate it by pulling a little ball on the vest. It’ll alert the user, and if the user doesn’t respond to the alert, the dog is trained to run around and alert other people and then bring them back to the user to help. If that doesn’t happen, it’ll call EMT and give them GPS coordinates to the location.

If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

I’m really interested in going to East Asia, Japan, and China. They’ve developed in such a different way than we did as countries. Japan is already super developed and has this crazy digital economy where it’s really normal to pay with your phone. Most phones actually come with the digital payment system and you can do things like put your train ticket on your phone. All of this stuff that’s just emerging in the States has already been in Japan for ages. There are entire hotels that have no staff. They’re run entirely by robots. Stuff like that is innovative in Japan, but in the States you can’t even imagine it. They have a completely different perception of how technology should fit into society. I’m curious about that because we’re all going to get there eventually.