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Creativity on display at Malott Innovation Awards

By Della Pacheco

Creativity on display at Malott Innovation Awards

Author: Della Pacheco
Magazine Section: Our People, Our Culture
College or School: CoE
Article Type: Issue Feature
Mechanical Engineering students in Senior Design have creatively applied their accumulated engineering knowledge to develop products that increase efficiency at home, improve the lives of people with disabilities and much more.

The Senior Design course (ME 463) allows students to take a hands-on approach to design with practical experience in critical thinking. Students work closely with faculty members to build and improve prototypes. Throughout the course, students are taught that design is a collaborative methodology and learn skills like leadership, teamwork, communication and project planning.

Team SafeDrop showcased their specially designed package drop system, able to safely and accurately carry supplies to civilians or military personnel.

The seniors showcase their team-based projects and compete for cash prizes in the Malott Innovation Awards at the culmination of the course each fall and spring semester. This is an opportunity to show off their hard work that represents all of the countless hours spent in labs, working on homework, memorizing formulas and sitting in class leading up to this final step in the students’ undergraduate career. This year 55 teams participated.

John Starkey, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is the lead professor for the design course. He says team members use their individual strengths by coming together to form their task list and assignments. “We encourage them to do this early and adjust it often as the required tasks become more clear,” he says. “As mentors for the groups, we instructors make suggestions depending on how well the groups are doing.

“Since the senior design course is one semester, students begin working the first week on understanding the problem to be solved, who has the problem, why it is a problem and what others have done to solve the problem,” Starkey explains. “They proceed through creation of solutions, analysis that predicts behavior and sizing components, purchasing, fabrication and assembly, and then testing — all in 15 weeks. It is a very aggressive process.”

Team Fiffi demonstrates how their tennis ball retriever device operates during the 2015 spring Malott Innovation Awards.

Much in the way that entrepreneurs sell their concepts on television's “Shark Tank,” the innovative device or process must excite a potential customer. Each group selects one member to act as a representative who will showcase the group’s product and informational poster to the competition’s guest judges on the first night of the event. To be selected for the next round, the representative must convince the judges of their product’s creativity, usefulness and value.

Showcasing innovation

This year two teams tied for first place.

Team FTP created the Pass Master that allows football receivers to practice without a quarterback. Aaron Melemed says that the team's goal was to create a football projectile machine that tracks its receiver and throws to him. “We wanted to get the operator out of the picture, whether it’s the quarterback or someone operating a passing machine, allowing a wide receiver to practice by himself,” he says. “The machine incorporates a visual tracking system using two cameras and triangulation and adjusts side to side and up and down.”

Team MOTUS created an innovative assistive movement device that allows those affected with lower limb impairments to move freely in their everyday activities without the limitations of normal crutches. It frees up the hands and addresses the inhibitive nature of current designs. “It allows the user to vary the amount of weight on their injured limb to ensure a stronger, quicker recovery period,” says team member Trevor Lear. “Solving a real-world problem is something that I’ve really enjoyed.”

Team AeroX gave judges an inside look at their fixed-wing aerial drone capable of vertical take off and landing (VTOL) and adaptable to multiple mission profiles.

Fostering teamwork

Each semester, the Malotts return to Purdue to support and encourage the students. Thomas Malott retired as president, CEO and director of Siemens Energy and Automation in 2000. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1962 and an honorary doctorate in 2002.

Malott acts as a mentor to the faculty and external judges brought in for the competition. “He is passionate that faculty and students think about innovation, what it means and how to do it,” Starkey says.

What does Starkey hope students take away from ME463 and the Malott Innovation Awards?

“A great sense of accomplishment,” he says. “The hope is that they really see how the courses they have taken all fit together and aren’t just individual islands of knowledge. We want them to have evidence based on the senior design experience that they are really ready to go out and be engineers, to have more confidence that they are prepared. And we want them to feel that they ended strong with a rewarding experience that forged some lasting relationships.”