Draper Technical Challenge Competition - National Society of Black Engineers

Challenge Questions

Password Replacement:
: Passwords have become the primary means of securing much of our digital lives, but they have fundamental weaknesses. Strong passwords tend to be difficult to remember, leading to the need for password reset capabilities. Weak passwords are easily recalled, but also easily defeated by automated password-cracking software. Numerous identity verification schemes have been proposed as alternatives to passwords. Survey these methods and project which scheme is most likely to succeed based on technical merits, societal trends/values, etc. If possible, propose a novel identity verification method and contrast it with other proposed methods.


Testing Water Potability:
One of the biggest challenges in developing nations is access to potable water. There are varieties of reasons that water might be unsafe to drink: high salinity, presence of biological waste, presence of industrial contaminants, etc. While hardware and testing regimens to detect the presence of harmful contaminants exist, these tests are often time consuming (many hours or several days) and expensive by the standards of a developing nation. Identify a common water contaminant (biological or chemical), describe the current state-of-the-art testing protocol for that contaminant, and then propose a device or method that would represent a significant improvement in the speed and/or cost associated with testing for that contaminant.


Large Scale Energy Storage:
Large scale energy storage can have a tremendous impact on the overall efficiency and distribution of power. The ability store MW-hr to GW-hr levels of energy in an efficient and low cost manner will enable the large scale integration of renewable resources while compensating for continuously changing loads on the electric grid. Likewise, such systems will also allow the lowest cost and most efficient energy sources to be leveraged by leveling the load and reducing peak demand. Conventional approaches (batteries, hydro, etc.) are either too expensive or have logistical limits which prevent their widespread adoption. What new approaches can be applied to efficiently store large quantities of energy at very low cost?
Specifications: The proposed system should be competitive with pumped-hydro. Desired specifications for the solution are shown below:

Capacity: > 1 GW-hr
Power: > 500MW
Efficiency > 80%
Cost < $425/kW-hr
Lifetime: > 13,000 cycles


Human Centric Design:
In the modern society, determining which individuals present a threat to public safety is a difficult task; people with ill-intent come in all shapes and sizes. Airport security in particular has been a focus of improving security screening. Potential targets for bad actors include the top 5 largest airports in the USA, collectively averaging nearly 100,000 passengers daily:

a. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL - Atlanta, GA)
b. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX - Los Angeles, CA)
c. O'Hare International Airport (ORD – Chicago, IL)
d. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW – Dallas, TX)
e. Denver International Airport (DEN – Denver, CO)

Design a system that will detect malicious intent from individuals as they enter a designated checkpoint area that has a commonality in all above airports. What method(s) would you use to evaluate the individual? What sensor and hardware would you use to accomplish this? How would you account for unreliability in these sensors/hardware?


Cyber Threats:
The age of individuals driving their own vehicles is soon coming to an end, at least that is the hope of many autonomous car designers, such as Google. However, with your life and safety no longer in fully under your control behind that wheel, what is the chance that someone else could gain control remotely? Car hacking is old trick that will likely have new victims as autonomous vehicles enter the market over the next several years. Nevertheless, in order to solve the problem, you must first get to the root of the issue. If you were the hacker, how would you hack into a self-driving car? How would you prevent other hackers from entering the system in the same manner? If another hacker manages to bypass your defense, how do you detect when they have access?


Allergen Detection:
The release of harmful gases into the environment, intentional or otherwise, remains a constant threat to one’s personal safety. Airborne allergens, food allergens, and other contagions can be harmful and some cases deadly. Peanut allergies and its adverse reaction is a growing concern and highlight the need for better personal awareness of these contagions. In recent years, we have seen the proliferation of warning labels on food packaging in cafeterias and in restaurants. The wide use of cell phones can offer a level of safety to better deal with these threats. Discuss how cell phone technology coupled with smart-phone applications and mobile sensing can be applied to provide a level of personal safety from these threats.