By Mark Dwortzan
Before the Singh Imagineering Lab was launched in October, 2011, Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen envisioned the facility as a place where College of Engineering students could cultivate their entrepreneurial spirit and develop as Societal Engineers who apply their expertise to advance our quality of life. Since the Lab’s opening, more and more undergraduates have taken advantage of its tools and machinery to pursue their own ideas on how to do just that—including nine who vied for top prizes in the College’s second annual Imagineering Competition, held April 16 and 23 at Ingalls Engineering Resource Center.
Facing a panel of five judges—Associate Dean for Administration Richard Lally, Associate Dean for Educational Initiatives/Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE), Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs/Professor Solomon Eisenberg (BME), Engineering Product Innovation Center Director/Professor of Practice Gerry Fine (ME, MSE), and last year’s first prize winner, David A. Harris (ME’15)—across an oblong conference table, the competitors described, demonstrated and defended seven projects that they developed in the Imagineering Lab and other on-campus facilities. The judges assessed each project for originality, ingenuity and creativity; quality of design and prototype; functionality; and potential to positively impact society.
Biking, 21st-Century Style
The project that wowed the judges the most and garnered the competition’s $2,500 first prize was Smart Bike, a bicycle that Konstantinos Oikonomopoulos (ME’14) and Lanke A. Fu (ME’14) enhanced to automatically shift gears in response to changing terrain and road conditions, such as hills and traffic lights.
To provide that capability, they developed an automatic transmission device that’s attached to the rear wheel along with a set of sensors measuring torque (turning force), cadence (peddling rate) and speed, and microcontrollers that adjust gears to keep each of these three factors steady. The gearing can change both manually and electronically via custom designed gear shifter.
“Given the platform’s ability to collect data as well as electronically adjust the gearing with the addition of microcontrollers, the bicycle can become a self-regulating system,” said Oikonomopoulos. “By making the biking experience more pleasant, technologically enhanced and ‘care free,’ we believe that more people will view biking as a modern means of transportation.”
In addition to adding new appeal to an alternative, non-polluting mode of transportation, the Smart Bike may be used as a means of outpatient rehabilitation for people recovering from leg injuries; by regulating the amount of torque on the crank set, the bicycle can reduce strain on riders’ legs.
Fu and Oikonomopoulos—who won second prize last year for his highly-accurate, affordable, easy-to-assemble desktop 3D printer—developed the Smart Bike using workspace and tools in the Imagineering Lab and 3D-printed parts from Mechanical Engineering Department labs.
“It’s like a gym bike that is used for real-life bike riding,” said Lanke, who sees fitness riders, rehab patients and commuters as its most likely customers.
“They started with an interesting premise—an exercise bike you could program with a certain setting and take out on the street and achieve that setting—and they solved a lot of mechanical, electrical, control system and software problems,” said Little. “It was a thorough, end-to-end design, and they built it and demonstrated it by getting on the bike in the presentation.”
Smarter Medicine Cabinets and Alarm Clocks
The second prize winners, John Aleman (ME’14) and Benjamin Corman (EE’14), received $1,500 for their project, Roommate Friendly Alarm Clock, which they designed to wake up and keep awake only one person in a room at a set time by shining a concentrated beam of high-brightness LEDs at the user’s face and an under-pillow motor that vibrates the bed.
“I’m a heavy sleeper, so the motor worked for me,” said Corman. “But I’m also a snooze button person, and the light helped me get out of bed.”
Two entries, Can of Corn and Smart Medicine Cabinet, tied for third place, splitting the $1,000 prize.
Can of Corn, developed by Yingming Wang (EE’13), Ajith Prasad (SMG’13) and Lalitha Kumaresan (EE’13), couples electronics—LEDs, a photoresistor and microcontroller—with conventional bug traps to automate the counting of corn borers, which have caused massive crop damage in recent years in China. When counts spike at the start of mating season, farms are sprayed with an environmentally benign pheromone to kill the borers.
Designed by Benjamin Graham (ME’16), Smart Medicine Cabinet upgrades the traditional medicine cabinet by exploiting built-in electronic sensors and Internet connectivity to make taking medicine and monitoring and ordering prescriptions simple and stress-free, particularly for seniors.
Other entries included a system to manufacture arrays of microneedles for faster, painless diagnostic blood tests; an electronic go-cart; and a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller.
Sponsored by John Maccarone (ENG’66), the competition was designed to reinforce the ideal of creating the Societal Engineer by spotlighting student efforts to design, build and test new technologies that promise to positively impact society.
Imagineering Lab programming is supported by the Kern Family Foundation and alumni contributions to the ENG Annual Fund.