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Tufts MSEM students develop product to make snow removal easier

MSEM students discuss

Throughout the course New Product Development & Marketing, M.S. in Engineering Management students learn about the various phases and elements of new product evolution – from conception to market positioning and prototyping. Last semester, one team developed RoboSno, a battery powered snow blower that is controlled with a phone or tablet. Another team developed SafeSight, an application that integrates into a car windshield to minimize and reduce dangerous glare.

RoboSno team members:
Amanda Brady, Mechanical Engineer, Raytheon, MSEM ‘19
Mike Certoma, Systems Engineer at Raytheon, MSEM ‘19
Craig Teed, MES Engineer at Lonza Biologics, MSEM ‘19
SaiPrasad Thondavada, Principal Software Engineer at EMC, MSEM ‘19

Tufts Gordon Institute spoke with the team to learn more about the idea, and their experience working through a cycle of new product development. 

Q: How did you come up with the idea for RoboSno?

Mike: Winter was coming and we were thinking about difficulties that our families or ourselves have experienced. We started to think of snow removal – how can we get rid of snow with more ease? Shoveling is difficult for many people, and you don’t always want to pay for a plowing service.

Amanda: A lot of our early brainstorming focused on ideas to make somebody’s life easier.

Q: How did you decide on your target customer and market?

Amanda: It evolved over time based on feedback. By doing a lot of research and sending out surveys, we realized that we needed to target a more tech-savvy younger generation because they are the people more likely to spend money on it.

Craig: There’s been a societal shift to more automation and more high tech artificial intelligence. There are a lot of products out there trying to bridge that gap and not asking people to pay a premium for it. We thought we could provide a technology that is more advanced and requires less manual intervention, but at the same time isn’t fully scaled up to automation. That way it would be affordable. This product is basically a middle item to disrupt the market a little bit.

SaiPrasad: If you look at market trends, there are a lot of products using artificial intelligence, so people are getting used to it. If we had this idea 10 years back, people probably wouldn’t have jumped on board.

Q: How does this product compare to other similar products?

Craig: It’s unique in the field of remote-controlled, battery-powered snow blowing. There’s nothing that completely does all of the things that we presented. However, it combines several existing technologies. There are electric snow blowers versus gas-powered out there and there are non-manual models, but they’re mostly gas-powered. We also had the idea of adding a salt spreader on the back.

Amanda: In one of our marketing classes, we were learning about a ‘white space’ new idea, versus improving an existing idea. We thought we needed this 100% brand new idea, but no one actually does that. We realized that we can make a lot of improvements to an existing product and create our own product from that.

Mike: It’s more expensive than a gas-powered, normal, manual snow blower. But it’s much cheaper than any of the automated options that are in process or just came out.

Q: What other aspects of the MSEM curriculum helped with your project?

Craig: The finance course helped a lot to push us to rethink the process. Going into the program, all of us had the ability to be creative. But it’s a whole different ballgame when you have to think, how is this going to market? How will it be successful? Will it make money? Thanks to the finance course, we were able to have a strategic and methodical way of attacking it.

Amanda: All of the other courses also helped us create a well-rounded overall pitch. We are all engineers so we are confident with the technical aspect, but I learned a lot about all of the other features of product development.

Mike: Our business communication class was really helpful. When we first started developing our presentation, we wanted to jam-pack every single detail in to prove that we knew exactly what we were doing. And through that class, we realized that you don’t really need to present all of the details. You need to have the knowledge so that if somebody asks you a question you can respond effectively.

Q: What are some of your main takeaways from the experience that you will use in your future?

SaiPrasad: The feedback we got throughout the project was really helpful to understand the cycle of product development. We got powerful feedback in real time. We learned about how to push a new product to an investor, and what kind of questions to think about.

Craig: We learned that presenting to investors is a different experience. You still need to frame it in terms of the end users’ advantage, but the tone of the presentation should focus on why it’s a useful and valuable experience for the investor. I don’t think it’s something that any of us had a lot of experience with.