A “smart” infant car seat that feeds its occupant while it plays soothing music, a robot doorman that screens visitors and receives packages for a building’s residents and an automated snack mix production machine.
These are three of 14 projects that senior students in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering will showcase to faculty, students and family on Friday morning. The annual event caps off a rigorous yearlong course in which students assess market needs and build systems that can meet those needs in innovative ways.
At first glance, viewers of these projects may recall Rube Goldberg cartoons that depict complicated systems performing simple chores. But for the students, it’s serious training for careers to come. Not only do they build machines or models of production lines, they also cooperate with other students, solve unforeseen challenges and convince skeptical customers (in this case, their professors) that everything works as claimed.
“It’s an enormous learning curve,” said Duncan Maina, who worked with three others to build the automated snack mix production machine. “In our classes, there is a lot of theory, but in this class, we’re applying that theory. In practical applications, things don’t always work – things burn out.”
Maina and his teammates devised a system that takes orders for a mix of candy and nuts, packages them, and dispenses the orders immediately or holds them for later pickup. It communicates with customers using text messages and keeps the machine’s owner updated on its operation.
In a related project, students modeled an inventory distribution system that fulfills orders when a customer uses a computer or smart phone to send an image of the desired product. Scott Schreck struggled to get two kinds of software to work together; teammate Laura Pawlowski found it challenging to work as a group to complete their system.
“The feeling you have when your project works is the best feeling ever,” she said.
Story by Carl Blesch
Click here for a complete list of student projects.