Engineering and Innovation

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Parks seniors work to turn plans into products   

Just across from McDonnell-Douglas Hall is a giant block of a building called Oliver Hall. It remains unfamiliar to the majority of students at Saint Louis University, but for Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology students, it stands as a vital place for their continued education.

Essentially, Oliver Hall is a giant workshop where engineering students put their hours of computer design training and their plethora of fluid dynamics equations to practical use. It is where seniors in Parks College spend a large amount of their “free-time”; that is, the time they don’t spend in classrooms, computer labs or lining the halls of MDH with a laptop and a notebook brimming with graphs and data.

Every engineering student must complete a senior design project, which is a year-long process done with a team of students. The teams come up with ideas that they want to see become reality, then put the entirety of their education to work in an attempt to design, construct and implement an innovative product.

While all share in the realm of engineering, the breadth of the various goals and disciplines of Parks seniors is vast and deep.

From solar-powered boats to battle robots, turbo-chargers to air-surveillance devices, designs put forward by students span land, sea and air, some even going so far as outer space.

For many groups, the primary intention of their project is competition. For instance, the team of Joe Lewandowski, Angela Schilt, Chris Eberhardt and Ander Robinson is building a robot to enter in the 2013 RoboGames, an international robotics competition held in San Mateo, Calif.

According to Lewandowski, the group plans to build a pneumatic flipper, which is a device that extends forward 5 to 7 inches from the robot and pushes up at the same time in an attempt to launch other competitors.

A 250-psi air tank will be used to power the flipper. Lewandowski compared this level of power to the drills used by NASCAR mechanics, which operate under 150 psi. The group will be constructing the robot from scratch.

“The problem is finding components that can withstand that particularly high pressure,” Lewandowski said. The team will compete with another SLU group that is designing a robot with a wedge device. The winner of that competition will move on to the RoboGames.

Another project currently underway is a solar energy-powered boat. The team, comprised of Ram Pokhrel, Hasta Monger, Huaqi Lu and Sufeng Shi, plan to attach two solar panels measuring 5.5 feet by 3.3 feet to the back of a 19-foot-long boat. The solar panels extract energy from sunlight and use it to charge lead acid batteries, which are used to run a DC motor connected to the propeller of the boat. One person will pilot the boat.

“Our main goal for this project is to complete a well-functioning boat and take it to an intercollegiate competition that’s going to happen in Iowa in June 2013,” Pokhrel said. The group also hopes to demonstrate the potential for alternative energy in the form of solar power.

A similar project was attempted in 2010, but the group working on it ran into problems and never got the boat running.

Looking to the skies, Kevin Keadle, Jeremy Payne, Ellen Pifer and Grant Spencer are designing an unmanned air vehicle for a competition being held by the Department of Homeland Security. The goal is to provide a platform that would allow Homeland Security to survey the border and watch for illegal drugs or illegal immigrants.

According to Pifer, the team’s design is somewhat innovative in that it’s a UAV without a tail, something like a B-2 Bomber. Should their design report be chosen to continue in the competition, the group will be given $30,000 to create a working model prototype.

“We have a 55-pound aircraft with a wingspan of about 16 feet,” said Pifer, concerning the designed aircraft. The group has designed UAVs of comparable size over the last few years, but felt that attempting to create an aircraft without a tail would be more challenging and give a “more real-life flavor to the design.”

In the area of land-based racing, Jaime Burgos, Eric Held, Greg Pasken, Shengyang Yi, and Manuel Tertsch are designing a turbocharger for a 600cc motor racecar. Turbochargers are used to increase the potential power output of an engine.

“We’re trying to make it so the race cars can be a little bit more powerful and we can get them out of the corners faster,” Held said. The design considerations for the team is not so much getting the greatest horsepower possible, but maximizing horsepower at lower speeds to get the car to accelerate more quickly out of turns. Turbochargers operate based on airflow, and for the competitions in which the team they are restricted to sending air through holes smaller than a nickel.

As students move into the spring semester, their projects will move from design stages to construction and implementation, which is certain to come with a whole new set of obstacles. Yet at the end of all the frustrations and problems inherent in any design of man, those most dedicated, talented and fortunate engineers will have added their very own piece to the collection of human technological innovation.