MENOMONIE — Thomas Weger went up against some of the best industrial designers in the world when he entered the Michelin Global Design competition. The results are in, and it’s safe to say he and his school, UW-Stout, are proud.
Weger was named a finalist — placing in the top 10 — in the light truck design competition sponsored by the American-based tire manufacturer. The contest drew 1,200 entries from 73 countries, including professional designers and design teams.
He was one of just three American entries in the top 10. A native of Edgerton, in south central Wisconsin, Weger is a senior pursuing Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in two programs, industrial design and studio art.
The top 10 included designers from Argentina, Brazil, China, France, India, Italy, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the United Kingdom. The winner of the contest was Josh Sandrock, a transportation design major at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. The contest named a top three plus seven more finalists.
The judges were “the world’s top automotive designers and industry experts,” including from BMW, Ford, Hyundai, General Motors and Nissan, according to Michelin.
“Knowing that I was a finalist in this competition, I was ecstatic, mainly because I know for a fact that my focus is not in automotive design and yet I was still receiving this recognition from accomplished professionals within that field,” Weger said.
Weger’s design went outside the box. He envisioned an electric, fully autonomous trash collection-compacting vehicle and system. A high-powered, bladeless drone would lift off the truck, pick up trash cans and safely bring them to the truck to be emptied. Via tracking software, the truck would know where and when to pick up cans.
Weger’s idea addresses the problem of inadequate and inefficient waste collection systems in highly populated areas. David Richter O’Connell, Weger’s instructor in the Senior Studio I class, witnessed Weger’s determination to develop a complete, professional entry.
“Thomas carved out a pretty aggressive project and had a few moments of ‘doubt and pain’ over the course of the semester, but his design research was very solid, and the system he created was thorough and very thoughtful. I’m very proud of him,” Richter O’Connell said.
Weger is the latest of numerous students from the industrial design program to earn an award in a major competition, said assistant professor Erik Evensen, director of the program.
“Thomas’ success contributes to an unprecedented amount of national and international coverage of our students' work in the past year. There should be absolutely no doubt that UW-Stout design students are competing and contributing on a global scale,” Evensen said.
Weger’s MSW — municipal solid waste — Pick Up entry includes self-adjusting tires with multiple bladders that fine-tune tread length and air pressure, and thus traction, based on road and load conditions.
While Weger admits that his idea is futuristic and the technology to implement it hasn’t been proven, the project represents the type of work in systems design that he hopes to do after he graduates in May.
“I’m really interested in solving the problems people have made. We’re now making products to fix the problems other products have caused. We are constantly backtracking, trying to correct. Because of this, I’m interested in systems design and dissecting the root of these problems,” he said. “How can we make things more efficient and still add value and convenience?”
Last summer, Weger interned as a designer at Briggs & Stratton in Milwaukee, but he also worked on his studio art. He went to Germany, Greece and Italy to global art festivals, via a UW-Stout art course. He was required to fill a 100-page sketch book, among other things.
“I think I do have what it takes to work in the design field. I’ll definitely pursue an industrial design career, but I also understand that studio art is a big part of who I am. Studio art acts as a filter for design. The two butt heads,” he said, citing the philosophies of aesthetics vs. purpose.