Inside USD

Innovation Showcase

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Engineers are always looking for ways to do things faster, better and more efficiently. Now they’re looking for ways to make them greener, too.

All these efforts were on display at the Engineering Showcase last Friday. Students in the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering demonstrated senior design and other projects to make bicycle commuting easier, improve satellite communication for aircraft, ships and vehicles, and provide access to water in the developing world through a solar pump.

Commuting to work on a bicycle can save energy but uphill rides can make it strenuous and inconvenient. Recognizing the growing market for electric bikes, a team of mechanical engineering students decided to create a kit that can “turn any bike into an electric bike,” said senior Sean Schrag-Toso (pictured third from left with teammates Attila Betyar, Julian Ringhof, Clay Mosolino, and Connor Lind). Improving on projects already on the market, the team created one that is easy to remove and install. The device is enclosed in a single unit that attaches to the seat post and can achieve a top speed of 20 miles per hour without pedaling. It even includes automatic transmission allowing riders to go up hills more quickly and easily.

There were a few problems to solve along the way, including an overheating motor, so the design includes a computer fan on the back of the device. The device “works great” and “our professors have encouraged us to patent the idea,” Schrag-Toso added. Associate Professor David Malicky and Visiting Professor Daniel Codd were the advisors for the team.

A pair of projects, both sponsored by San Diego-based ViaSat, aims to improve satellite communication for military and commercial aircraft, ships and vehicles. One team of electrical engineering students worked on the design of a compact sensor module to send data to an actuator module, the project of the second team, with the ability to rotate an antenna mounted on a vehicle in order to stay aligned with a data satellite. Together the projects will decrease packaging size, cut production costs and improve communication in battlefield and other life-and-death situations.

Both were “difficult” projects requiring the students to learn a lot of new information, said Professor Kathleen Kramer who teaches a wireless and digital communications class that most of the students are taking. Carson Drake, Trent Pulsifer and James Logan worked on the sensor module while Ryan Maliszewski, Shane Fontaine, Christopher Anderson and Gonzalo Albaladejo worked on the actuator module. Associate Professor Ernie Kim and Adjunct Professor Henry Eisenson were also project advisors.

Altogether, 23 projects were presented at the showcase including a wireless temperature sensor with applications to the medical, food and other industries, a special wheelchair to assist the elderly, and an international packing area redesign for Thermo Fisher Scientific, a world leader in serving the life sciences industry. Other sponsors for the showcase included Don Reid of Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc.; ADS Advantageous Systems, IntroTech and Associated Students of USD.

The showcase also included five projects from a cross-disciplinary class, Sustainable Engineering Design for Humanity, taught by Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering Truc Ngo. In what is the school’s first class on sustainability, Ngo said she is trying to “increase students’ knowledge and awareness of the negative consequences of human activities, including especially industrial practices, on our surrounding environment and lives on earth. Most importantly, we want to equip students with modern engineering tools and experiences to help solve different world problems such as depleting material resources, energy, water, and global warming.”

Projects for the class included a new pump to address a lack of access to water in rural areas in the Dominican Republic. Four students are working on a solar-powered system to pump water from the mountain source to the reservoirs before distributing it to individual houses for the town of El Cercado. Nearly 21 percent of the Dominican population lacks access to improved water sources, which is the biggest reason for waterborne disease is so prevalent in the region. The team plans to pilot a water distribution structure including both a solar-powered and a commercial grade manual foot pump in case of bad weather or other emergencies. The HIFA pump (named for the first letter of each team member’s name) made it to the semifinals of USD’s recent Social Innovation Challenge. The competition was “excellent practice” for problem solving and learning to work as a team for industry, said Autumn Khalily, a junior in mechanical engineering and Marine Corps veteran.

“We all brought something different to the course,” added Harmonie Edelson, a senior in industrial and systems engineering (pictured above, far left with Ivan Reyes and Feras Sabano).

This spring marks the end of the first school year for Engineering Dean Chell Roberts whose goal is to further infuse innovation and design-thinking into the school’s curriculum. Plans include hiring new faculty and adding specializations in software, biorobotics and sustainability to current programs. Roberts looked pleased as he visited students and chatted with them about their projects. The year has “started the path to creating engineering programs where students design, innovate and inspire,” he said. “And when you look at all of this, doesn’t that inspire you?” he said with a smile.

— Liz Harman

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