“Smart” Drum Designers Win CCNY’s First Zahn Prize

Device designed by three Grove School of Engineering students connects to Internet to track progress of student drummers

Deadbeat Drums, a team of three Grove School of Engineering seniors, has won the first annual Zahn Prize for excellence in entrepreneurship. The team of Greg Knoll, Jeremy Neiman and Will Senisi took the top honor, besting three other finalists with their design of an electronic system to teach drumming, connected to an online progress-tracking and analysis tool. Their selection was announced May 6 at celebratory gala in Steinman Hall at The City College of New York following the final round of competition.

The Zahn competition challenges City College students, staff, faculty and alumni to design an engineering device and produce a prototype within eight weeks. The winning team will receive $20,000 to develop their product, full access to the Zahn Center, which provides technology incubator space, and assistance to launch their product on a crowdfunding site such as Kickstarter.

“I was impressed with not just the ingenuity of the projects but with the breadth of the technology involved,” said the prize benefactor, Irwin Zahn, of the CCNY class of ‘48 and founder of Autosplice, an international electronics manufacturing company. Mr. Zahn established both the center and the prize through his Moxie Foundation to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in engineering.

“We thought the (winning) idea was really original,” said contest judge Robert Faludi, an electronic networking strategist and Internet startup investor. “It is not a market composed of everyone, but is really specific for a particular group of users, which makes it commercially strong. That’s what is important for starting a business.”

The theme of this year’s design challenge was the “Internet of Things,” or IoT, and involved creating new uses for everyday objects with Internet connectivity. This allows remote monitoring or data collection and analysis.

“We wanted them to see what they could do to make devices they already use a little bit smarter,” Zahn Center Director Dr. Haytham Elhawary said about the competitors. “In the beginning they were very raw, but in eight weeks they’ve improved incredibly.”

Prize Winners

The Deadbeat Drums team added electronics to a low cost drum kit that uses flashing light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to teach fundamental rhythm patterns. A connected web or smart phone app lets the student choose a rudiment to practice and keep track of the progress.

Team member Greg Knoll, a senior in computer engineering and a drummer himself, came up with the idea and designed the interface between the software and hardware. He explained that it is difficult to keep track of the sheer number of rudiments to be mastered.

“We wanted to design a system to teach anyone at all to play the drums,” he said. It is designed for beginners to learn the basics, intermediate drummers to practice, and instructors to remotely monitor the progress of their students.

Teammate Will Senisi, an electrical engineering senior, designed the electronic components, peripheral devices and interfaces; Jeremy Neiman, a computer science senior, built the online modules. With a potential market of up to two million users, they plan to price their system around $100, making it much cheaper than taking private lessons.


The other finalist entries were:

Blue Canary, an inexpensive electronic device-tagging platform to help people find their lost items and offer rewards to those who help them. Team members: Sammy Kupfer, senior, biomedical engineering; Edwin Mak, master’s student, biomedical engineering; Irving Derin, junior, computer engineering; Crae Sosa, senior, chemical engineering, and Dawi Shen, junior, biomedical engineering.

SensingWater, a device that promotes water conservation by measuring usage at the faucet and reporting the cost to a website. Team members: Mohammed Islam, sophomore, electrical engineering; James Fallon, sophomore, electrical engineering; Arafat Chowdhury, sophomore, chemical engineering; and Shamim Ahmed sophomore, biology and chemistry.

Style Me Mirror, a smart mirror with embedded electronics to keep an inventory of the user’s clothing online and make visual outfit suggestions based on the weather forecast and fashion trends. Team members: Amal Afroz Alam, junior, biomedical engineering; Vaishali Patel, senior, biomedical engineering; Ayman Khan, senior, biomedical engineering; Rakshya Bista, junior, biomedical engineering; and Kamran Nazim, junior, biomedical engineering.


Besides Mr. Zahn and Mr. Faludi, contest judges were:
•  Alison Hodgson, Senior Project Manager, Industrial Initiatives, New York City Economic Development Corp.
•  Shari Ford, executive director of NYC Tech Connect, a tech startup stimulator
•  David Reeves, founder of Hack Manhattan
•  Dr. Daniel Steingart, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Princeton University, formerly a member of the Grove School of Engineering faculty.

On the Internet

Zahn Center

Photo: Will Senisi, Greg Knoll and Jeremy Neiman (L-R) designed an Internet-connected system to teach drum technique.



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Jessa Netting
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