The Penn State Harrisburg engineering students who built a “hover-barrow” -- a wheelbarrow that floats on air -- started with a simple sketch on a piece of paper.
They then transferred their sketch to a computer and made calculations.
They built a prototype…It didn't work.
They went back to the computer and tried again…and again.
“It was a simple idea, but getting it to work was hard,” said Joshua Tucker, one of four team members.
According to another team member, Nayan Patel, “it was major trial and error.”
The team was one of 27 to present their mechanical and electrical engineering projects the past spring at the Engineering Capstone Design Conference on campus.
Penn State Harrisburg senior engineering students are required to complete a capstone project. The culmination of their educational experience, the project combines classroom learning with real-life applications and often involves area industries. The students also formally present their projects publicly at the conference each spring.
Recently, TE Connectivity created a $500,000 endowment to support the capstone projects. This gift from TE Connectivity, a world leader in connectivity, will provide Penn State Harrisburg engineering students in the School of Science, Engineering, and Technology with expanded experiential learning opportunities. The gift will create the TE Connectivity Capstone Design Endowment to fund Penn State Harrisburg senior engineering capstone projects as well as create the TE Connectivity Lecture Series in Connector Design, which will provide opportunities for students to network with industry experts.
The hover-barrow team used a leaf blower to direct air under the cart, and contained the air with a rubber skirt which bulged out like a balloon. The toughest part was finding the right material for the skirt, they said. But when demonstrated, it worked beautifully, taking only a slight push to direct the barrow forward.
Rick Ciocci, associate professor of mechanical engineering, described the capstone projects as the culmination of what the students have learned during their years at Penn State Harrisburg – a combination of classroom learning and real world applications.
“Taking what we teach in lecture and putting it to use with the equipment is invaluable,” he said.
Student projects this year included such diverse designs as a biodiesel reactor, a 3D scanner, an electric motorcycle, a standing assisted wheelchair, stair climbing crutches, a shopping cart dryer, a voice operated refrigerator opener, and a voice-to-braille translator.
Many of the students, like the hover-barrow team of Tucker, Patel, Frank Misuraca and Saqib Mirza, said the education was invaluable.
“The real world situation showed us that what we think might happen or might not happen,” Mirza said. “We needed the ability to adapt. It let us realize that even the simplest thing is not that simple.”
Mike Gobrecht II, William Fike, Josh Stewart and James Kerns made a wheelchair that can help paraplegics move from a sitting to a standing position. They took a regular wheelchair, tore it apart, analyzed what they needed, and built it up again.
Stewart said he had never welded before, but now knows how.
“The things you read about in books are made possible,” he said about his project.
David Lane, who made the 3D scanner with Marwan Alkassir and Alyssa Lawall, said he always preferred hands-on work. Through his project, he said he learned new shop techniques and teamwork.
Graduates of the engineering programs are successful. Ciocci said that even before graduation, about half the senior engineering students already had jobs. Others were planning on graduate school or taking some time off, but they had good prospects.
Patel said he wants to someday start his own company, manufacturing green automobiles that regenerate their own electricity. Mirza would love to see his name on a car he designed. Fike and Gobrecht lined up jobs starting right after graduation.
“This is a good field to get into,” Gobrecht said. “You can get a job almost anywhere, and the jobs are just amazing. No matter how bad the economy is, there's always a need for engineers. Behind everything that's built, there's an engineer.”