Touch-It Inc., a Salt Lake company selling heat sensitive shirts, had trouble explaining to potential customers what the shirts did until some Weber State University engineering students came up with a mannequin containing an electric motor.
Paul Wakefield, a WSU graduate and part owner of Touch-It, said, "Customers couldn't visualize what our T-shirts do. We needed an active display to get our message across. The Technology Assistance Center came up with a novel solution."Dubbed "Herbie," the mannequin has a motor that is turned on after he is dressed with a heat-sensitive shirt. Herbie gets hot under the collar quickly.
As a result, one shirt changes from showing the word "Slam" to the silhouette of an airborne basketball player. A scene from Arches National Park changes from night to day, a colorful dinosaur changes into its skeleton and "Weber State" disappears to reveal a wildcat, the school's mascot.
Before Herbie came along, Wakefield and his partner, Rocky Raab, used a hair dryer or their own breath to get the shirts to change. "It wasn't a very slick presentation, and we wanted something that shows the drama of these images changing, effortlessly, right before a customer's eyes," Wakefield said.
Herbie was built with help from the center, which offers affordable manufacturing assistance to small businesses and provides hands-on engineering technology experience for students.
Stephen S. Reed, center director, challenged a fluid-mechanics class to solve the problem, and it grew into a project for Jay Tuttle, Reid Leland, Steve Mott and Gordon R. Whipple. They created Herbie by fitting a specially designed air duct, heating element and small fan into a fiberglass chest cavity of the mannequin.
Reed said the one-of-a-kind display will be mass-produced if the company can achieve major retail distribution of its T-shirts.