HOUSTON – (May 5, 2017) – Call it retro-innovation. The astral tracker designed by Rice University’s Team Solar Lunar 2.0 suggests not cutting-edge breakthroughs but archaic technologies: the astrolabe, the orrery, even the sundial.
“We had a majestic object in mind,” said Team Solar Lunar 2.0 member Caz Smith. “We wanted to create an artistic exhibit that shows the real-time position of the sun and moon, connecting their locations to the location of the user. We wanted to bring people closer to the sun and moon.”
With fellow students Logan Baldridge, Liz Kacpura and Noah Kenner, Smith has designed and constructed a device as sculptural as it is astronomical. The idea came from John Mulligan, a lecturer in public humanities at Rice.
“The goal is to give you a sense of the way you relate to the celestial bodies,” Mulligan said. “You should feel yourself as a point hurtling through space. It’s an aesthetic effect I want to achieve.”
The visible portion of the astral tracker consists of two arcs attached to a vertical shaft that serves as an axis. The larger arc, painted gold, tracks the position of the sun. The smaller arc within the larger arc is painted silver and tracks the moon. An arrow on the outer rim of each arc points to the appropriate heavenly body.
Two motors are concealed in the base and two in the arcs. Using a Raspberry Pi minicomputer and the PyEphem Python Library, the tracker calculates the altitude and azimuth of the sun and moon for a given longitude, latitude and time. The calculations drive the motorized arcs to follow the azimuth of both bodies.
“We had some trouble with the electronics,” Smith said. “We’ve melted several wires, and the power supply has failed sometimes. We’re not electronics experts.” Baldridge is a sophomore and the others are freshmen. All are mechanical engineering majors. Each team member devoted roughly 10 hours a week to working on the project.
“It became an exercise in breaking down a project into its discrete parts,” Smith said. “One person did most of the wiring, one did the code and one handled the aesthetics.”
The device remains a work in progress. Electrical tinkering remains to be done. The team has prepared a 12-page instruction manual if a future team, this summer or next fall, chooses to continue the project. In the introduction to their manual the team members write:
“At the end of the semester, the device will be installed in Dr. Mulligan’s research laboratory. From there, it will ideally find a permanent home as part of a museum exhibition.”
A team of Rice engineering students recently took top honors and a $5,000 prize for its development of a potential digital cure for epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by unpredictable, recurrent seizures that can pose a risk to a patient’s safety. When undergoing a seizure, the brain is considered to be in an “ictal” state. Team Ictal Inhibitors‘ goal was to develop a neurostimulator that stimulates the brain to prevent the onset of seizures.
To create the system, the team first needed to develop a seizure-prediction algorithm. The students created a machine-learning algorithm that was “very good” at predicting seizures: It predicted all seizures in their data set at least two minutes before their onset with 3.9 false positives per hour. The team then transferred this prediction algorithm to custom hardware that runs on patient data to predict seizures in real time.
“What our system is trying to do is predict and prevent seizures in real time,” said Sarah Hooper, a senior electrical engineering major. “The first stage of our system is to record neural activity from the brain. That activity is then sent to our piece of hardware, which has the algorithm that produces a seizure prediction. Using the electrical signals that are produced in the brain, we can predict if a seizure is going to occur in the next five minutes or so.”
Hooper said that if a seizure were about to occur, the hardware would then communicate back to electrodes implanted in the brain to apply electrical neurostimulation, which can actually stop the seizure before it occurs.
“Three years ago, the project was basically an idea,” said Erik Biegert, a senior who will graduate in May with an electrical engineering degree. “About one-third of the 3 million epilepsy patients in the United States don’t respond to anti-seizure medications. The only option left for those patients is to undergo surgery to remove the part of the brain that is the issue; we hope to replace that option with something a lot less invasive.”
The project is part of Rice’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program, which aims to integrate graduate students, seniors and underclassmen. The VIP program began at Georgia Tech, and when it was funded by the Helmsley Trust, the program encouraged nationwide participation. That is how Rice became involved in the project and one of 25 universities in the VIP consortium, according to the team’s faculty adviser Behnaam Aazhang, who is the J.S. Abercrombie Professor of electrical and computer engineering.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the sponsor of the broader research project that underlies this VIP project. The NSF-funded project grew out of discussions between Aazhang and Dr. Nitin Tandon, a prominent neurosurgeon at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Tandon, a co-principal investigator of the NSF project, provides real intracranial patient seizure data for the project as well as technical advice and specifications.
While the six seniors who are members of Team Ictal Inhibitors will be moving on after commencement in May, Gary Woods, the team’s co-adviser and professor in the practice in computer technology, said the project will move forward. “A current junior will take the reins for next year and build a senior team to drive the project further along,” he said.
The current team is looking to offer guidance to the next team. Randy Zhang, a senior electrical engineering major, said the team is preparing an academic paper to publish on the project and technology this summer. “In terms of next steps, I think that what mostly needs to be done is work on how the device is actually going to interact with the input electrodes and how it would pass on its output to actual neurostimulators,” he said. “What we really focused on this year was to create the processing unit and all of the machine learning intelligence that can make this happen. On a higher level, the next steps could be to flesh out the design and move it onto a silicon chip so it can be created into an actual device.”
“This is a work in progress, and we’re just scratching the surface,” Aazhang said. “This is at least three to five to seven years away from a product that could begin the clinical trials process, and then there is forming a business partnership, along with the whole FDA approvals process.”
“We’re really proud of the work we did this year,” said Luke Van der Spoel, a senior electrical engineering major. “We received really good feedback from the public and our mentors, but I think winning the competition was a big surprise for us with all of the other great projects. We really didn’t expect it.”
The team also won first place and $500 at Rice’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Corporate Affiliates Day.
“Ictal Inhibitors has created one of the technically most sophisticated projects I’ve mentored, and their performance as an integrated team of engineers is probably the best I’ve seen,” Woods said. “The VIP team structure has allowed the team to perform together at the level of a seasoned team of professional engineers.”
Ictal Inhibitors won the top prize in the George R. Brown Engineering Design Showcase held April 13 at Rice University’s Tudor Fieldhouse. The Excellence in Engineering Award brought with it a prize of $5,000.
The team developed an implantable neurostimulator that applies low-frequency stimulation to suppress seizures in people with epilepsy.
“Honestly, we had no idea,” said team member Erik Biegert. “This is the greatest thing that’s happened to us. We’ve gotten good feedback all year about how well we’ve been doing but this is better than we could have ever hoped.”
“There’s so many awesome teams here from so many different disciplines, and I know that it’s hard to compare those teams, so we’re really thankful and happy, and we’re excited to see this project move forward,” added Sarah Hooper, who said students are already lined up to continue development in future years.
The Ictal Inhibitors team, from left: Sarah Hooper, Erik Biegert, Justin Pensock, Marissa Levy, Xiaoran (Randy) Zhang and Luke Van der Spoel.
Willy Revolution Award for Outstanding Innovation ($5,000): Team ClotMeNot.
Willy Revolution Award for Outstanding Innovation ($2,500): Duncan Float Team.
Excellence in Capstone Engineering Design Award ($1,000): One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Feedstock.
Excellence in Capstone Engineering Design Award ($1,000): Breaking VAD.
Excellence in Independent, Multiyear or Club Engineering Design Award ($1,000): Smith Swim Squad.
Excellence in Freshman Engineering Design Award ($1,000): LRSCP.
Best Interdisciplinary Engineering Design Award ($750): Galveston Bay Foundation Headquarters.
Best Conceptual or Computational Modeling Engineering Design Award ($500): To The Heart.
Best Technology for Low-Resource Settings Design Award ($500): Colosto-Mates.
Best Energy-Related Engineering Design Award ($500): Petro Patrol.
Best Medical Device Technology Award ($500): Dexterous Lab.
Best Environment and Sustainability Engineering Design Award ($500): Tie: Untealeafable and Lettuce Turnip the Beet.
Best Gaming, Creative or Innovative Technology Award ($500): Hippopeutic.
Best Aerospace, Robotics or Transportation Technology Award ($500): Rice Eclipse.
People’s Choice Award ($500): ThrombosTH!S.
The annual public event put on by the George R. Brown School of Engineering and the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen features senior capstone design and other projects by Rice undergraduates. Read about all the participating teams at http://oedk.rice.edu/showcase.
A set of snap-together glasses designed by students at Rice University lets people with diabetes see into the future and know that without proper care, the future does not look good.
The educational tool developed by the Eye See You See team will help doctors show patients how their vision could deteriorate over time due to diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease that can result from uncontrolled diabetes and lead to blindness. They hope the tool will encourage patients to follow their doctors’ protocols.
“Retinopathy is not curable,” said senior psychology major Anna Klineberg, who worked on the project with her teammates at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK). “As soon as you get it, you can’t prevent it from happening and it will get worse. A lot of people with diabetes get retinopathy, and a lot of them have never even heard of the disease. So we’re targeting these patients early and have either health care providers or retinopathy specialists show them that if they’re not careful, this is what could happen.”
A team of Rice seniors known as Eye See You See created a set of snap-together glasses that show people with diabetes the risks of developing diabetic retinopathy, which leads to the deterioration of their vision. From left: Caroline Brigham, Catherine Levins, Truce Pham and Anna Klineberg. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The lenses show them how retinopathy progressively damages a patient’s vision. “We’ve had people come up to us after presentations and ask to try the glasses because they have diabetes and they want to see what the (eye) disease looks like,” said Truce Pham, a biochemistry and cell biology senior.
The team, including architecture major Caroline Brigham and political science major Catherine Levins, developed the system with Dr. Bhavani Iyer, a clinical assistant professor and low-vision specialist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
While strategizing, they considered a system based on a kaleidoscope, a View-Master or virtual reality app, but they were ultimately convinced patients would be most comfortable with something familiar. “Glasses are normal,” Klineberg said. “Putting a VR headset to your face makes it seem more like a video game.”
Though the glasses are geared specifically to low-resource settings like those served by the Rice 360˚ Institute for Global Health, they hope anyone who works with patients with diabetes will find them helpful.
Rice student Truce Pham demonstrates custom glasses that show patients how their vision could deteriorate over time due to diabetic retinopathy. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The four stages illustrated by the lenses start with “macular edema, which is seen as single dot in the center of your vision,” Pham said. By the final lens, very little can be seen through a mottled — but mostly black — pattern.
“We couldn’t make 15 versions of the lens, so we took all the information we got and figured out how to represent this with as few as possible,” said Klineberg, who said they used paint, nail polish and laser etching to model the opaque patterns on tools used by optometrists.
“We’re talking with patients with diabetes now,” said Brigham, who traveled to Malawi with Rice 360˚ last summer. “A doctor in the Texas Medical Center is showing them some of our prototypes to see if this is exactly what they see, and we’re incorporating their feedback into our newest transitions.”
Brigham handled the bulk of the 3-D printing that produced multiple prototypes of the slotted frames. (They also made frameless lenses that slip behind prescription glasses.) Meanwhile, Levins gained expertise with the laser cutter used to model dozens of lenses as well as an expanding case to hold all the pieces.
Part of the kit is a set of lenses meant for patients with prescription glasses. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“We wanted to produce every element here in the OEDK so that we can make duplicates of the final set before we graduate,” Levins said. The team hopes prototypes will go to Brazil with Rice 360˚ as well as partners at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Brownsville this summer.
The team’s faculty advisers are Maria Oden, a professor in the practice of engineering and OEDK director, and Richard Schwarz, a research science in the Optical Spectroscopy and Imaging Laboratory at Rice.
The students will demonstrate their work at the George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase April 13. More than 80 teams will vie for cash prizes at the annual event, which will be open to the public from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse on the Rice campus, 6100 Main St.
It sounds easy: Build a robot costume that the wearer can use to convince someone the robot is real. But the task wasn’t so simple.
A team of Rice University freshmen calling themselves NotBot took on the challenge and created a contraption they hope will suit NASA. The agency asked them for a convincing lookalike of its humanoid robots Valkyrie and Robonaut that it can use to easily assess human-robot interactions and help future astronauts develop everyday protocols with their artificial helpers on missions to Mars and beyond.
The project may involve a bit of role-playing for both parties, but it’s more than mere fantasy. There’s a Robonaut already among the crew at the International Space Station, where it works alongside a human crew.
The NotBot team of Rice students built a robot costume to help NASA astronauts learn to work with their artificial helpers on long-range missions. From left: Christina Rincon, Grant Wilkinson, Pedro Regino, Pedro Lozano and Rebecca Francis. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The Rice team of Rebecca Francis, Pedro Lozano, Pedro Regino, Christina Rincon and Grant Wilkinson built their bot to give maximum movement to the wearer.
That’s good for Lozano, who will be the “bot” at the upcoming George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase at Rice’s Tudor Fieldhouse April 13. The chemical and biomolecular engineering major will don the apparel there to show off its flexibility at an event that just happens to be during National Robotics Week.
“I’ve worn earlier iterations for 20 minutes or so, but I only put this suit on for the first time today,” Lozano said. “I think I’ll be wearing it for most of showcase, for a couple of hours.”
With a black bodysuit covering his chest and head, Lozano stood while his team prepped him for a demo a week before the showcase: First they put the modified shoulder pads on him, then the lit chest plate, then the black wood-and-polymer wrap around the middle and then the arms of shaped, laser-cut cardboard coated with fiberglass, held together and to a pair of gloves with internal elastic-and-Velcro straps. Finally, they stuffed Lozano’s head into the modified motorcycle helmet and silvered visor.
From the waist up, the human part appeared gone. As the NotBot, Lozano will not speak but must now learn to move like a machine.
“NASA gave the team a time frame: A person had to be able to put on this costume in no longer than a half hour,” said Rice bioengineer Jane Grande-Allen, the team’s faculty adviser. “This one doesn’t take that long, but it took a lot of hard work to get all the pieces to attach firmly.”
Rice student Grant Wilkinson helps Pedro Lozano adjust an arm as they test NotBot, a robot-like outfit ordered by NASA to help train astronauts who will work with robots on long-range missions. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The students had help from another mentor who makes convincing Stormtrooper costumes. “For example, we really didn’t know how to attach the arms, so he gave us the idea of having the straps on the inside,” Lozano said. “Basically, they’re elastic bands that help them stay in place.”
Ultimately, the challenge will not be for the wearer, but for the people who will be interacting with the “bot.” “NASA’s idea is for this to let them do behavioral testing of the person interacting with the robot,” Francis said.
“NASA has astro-robots they could use, but they told us it would be a lot less expensive to have us make a robot suit,” Regino added.
“The problem is their Robonaut machines, the working robots, can’t operate individually even though they are semifunctional,” Lozano said. “They’re not at the level yet where they can perform outside. So even though this isn’t an actual robot, it will allow them to get valuable data.”
Anyone can put NotBot to the test at the showcase, which will be open to the public from 4:30 to 7 p.m., when the winners are announced. But don’t expect a lengthy conversation.
“When you think of NASA’s Robonaut or other robots, they don’t talk,” Grande-Allen said. “So NotBot won’t, either.”
By PATRICK KURP
Special to Rice News
Some engineering design projects click, hum or make no sound at all. Lettuce Turnip the Beet may be the first at Rice University to gurgle.
“The pumps are always going,” said design team member Dominique Schaefer Pipps. “The water never stops moving, keeping the plants alive.” The punningly named Team Lettuce Turnip the Beet has designed and built what is known technically as a “produce cultivation machine,” which resembles an oasis of greenery at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK).
From left: Jared Broadman, George Dawson, Dominique Schaefer Pipps and Sanjiv Gopalkrishnan. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Sprouting from tiers of PVC pipes are lettuce, garlic and other vegetables, grown hydroponically — that is, without soil — and kept fresh by a pump circulating 55 gallons of water. The project was commissioned by a “zero-resource house” on the campus of Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. Previously, Chalmers partnered with another Rice team to create BioBlend, a variation on the in-sink garbage disposal that separates food waste from water and simplifies the composting process.
“The emphasis is on using as few resources as possible, using little energy and wasting nothing,” said Sanjiv Gopalkrishnan. He and Schaefer Pipps, along with team members Jared Broadman and George Dawson, are all seniors in mechanical engineering at Rice.
The team achieved its goal to produce sufficient food to make one salad per week for one year, all in an apartment environment. The original prototype was built last November after two months of brainstorming. It’s a much bulkier, space-consuming model and has been moved outdoors to a fenced-in area behind the OEDK. It remains overgrown with sprawling tomato plants, broccoli and Swiss chard.
Dominique Schaefer Pipps tends to her team’s hydroponic experiment, a capstone design project required of most senior engineering students at Rice. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“We wanted to minimize power consumption and environmental impact, but maximize nutritional content and yield,” Dawson said. “The machine should coexist with humans in a rather small living environment. Noises, lights and smells shouldn’t interfere with the sleep cycle or life in general, and basic maintenance should be kept simple.”
According to the team, the device consumes about 900 watts, about as much power as a microwave or medium window air conditioner, and runs off one outlet even after replacing fluorescent lights with LED growing lights to improve the health of plants farther away from the fixtures.
The new prototype stands 8 feet tall, but its wooden frame and six levels of vinyl pipes are nearly flush with the wall. The biggest change is using square rather than round plastic pipes, which have a larger internal surface area and move more water. The frame is held together with pegs and friction and uses no glue or nails; the entire device weighs around 70 pounds.
George Dawson, a member of Lettuce Turnip the Beat, a senior engineering design team at Rice, works on its hydroponic garden. The team’s initial goal was to produce sufficient food to make one salad per week for one year in an apartment environment. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“That makes transporting it easy. We have to get it to Sweden. This is like Ikea for toddlers, with really big parts,” Broadman said.
The team will install sensors to automatically monitor pH levels, nutrients, temperature and other factors before the device is installed in Sweden. The current setup uses one reservoir but the students expect a multiple-reservoir system, each with varying levels of nutrients, could permit fine-tuning the nutrient requirements of various plants.
The team is advised by Matthew Elliott, a lecturer in mechanical engineering, who said, “My job is easy. We meet once a week for updates. The students have taken care of everything.”
Team Lettuce Turnip the Beet will compete in the annual George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase at Rice University’s Tudor Fieldhouse April 13. The showcase opens to the public at 4:30 p.m.
HOUSTON – (April 11, 2017) – The public is invited to see inventions by Rice University students at the annual George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase April 13 at Tudor Fieldhouse on the Rice campus, 6100 Main St.
Nearly 80 teams will demonstrate devices and show designs for projects with biomedical, mechanical, computer, chemical and flight applications, among others.
The free event will be open to the public at 4:30 p.m.; awards will be announced at 6:30 p.m. Rice engineering alumni and representatives of local industry will judge the teams. The top prize for excellence in engineering will earn the winning team $5,000.
The complete list of showcase teams is posted at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen site, http://oedk.rice.edu/2017showcaseteams. To watch a video from the 2016 showcase, go to http://oedk.rice.edu/showcase.
Who: Rice University undergraduate engineering students.
What: The George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase.
When: Thursday, April 13, 4:30-7 p.m.
Where: Tudor Fieldhouse at Rice, 6100 Main St.
Members of the news media who want to attend should RSVP to Mike Williams in News and Media Relations at email@example.com or 713-348-6728.
Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.
Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,879 undergraduates and 2,861 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for happiest students and for lots of race/class interaction by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to http://tinyurl.com/RiceUniversityoverview.
The key to providing schoolchildren in rural Mexico with an endless supply of tasty drinking water could lie in using readily available materials like locally quarried limestone.
That’s the conclusion of Team H^3, four Rice University undergraduates who are working with nonprofit Cantaro Azul Foundation to improve the taste of rainwater at more than a dozen schools in Chiapas, Mexico.
“Adding minerals to the water would not only improve the taste but could also improve the nutritional value,” said Rohan Bhardwaj, a sophomore cognitive sciences major from the team.
H^3 is short for “hydration, hardness and health.” Team member Ricardo Lozoya, a sophomore biochemistry major, said the technical side of the challenge — designing a system to add minerals to water — wasn’t the most difficult part of the problem.
“There are devices that could be installed to do this today, but they’re often expensive, complex or require parts that aren’t available in Chiapas,” Lozoya said.
Team H^3 is (from left) Rohan Bhardwaj, Caroline Brigham, Ricardo Lozoya and JaeJoon Lee.
“Often, what you find is that donated systems work until they break, and then they’re abandoned,” said team member JaeJoon Lee, a senior civil and environmental engineering major.
H^3’s task was to come up with a sustainable option, a low-cost, easy-to-maintain system that Chiapas communities would be likely to embrace and use for many years.
The team’s design involves pumping filtered rainwater through a hard plastic container filled with crushed stone to impart minerals from the stone to the water.
One of the team’s ideas was to use crushed limestone from the Chiapas area.
“We’re also using a canister that’s already used in another part of the rainwater filtration system,” said team member Caroline Brigham, a senior architecture major.
H^3’s project was a class assignment for Sustainable Water Purification for the Developing World, an elective that’s cross-listed by three Rice degree programs — bioengineering, global health and civil and environmental engineering. The course was added to Rice’s catalog last year as part of the educational component of Rice’s Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) center, the first National Science Foundation-funded Engineering Research Center in Houston. NEWT is developing compact, mobile, off-grid water-treatment systems that can provide clean water to millions of people who lack it and to make U.S. energy production more sustainable and cost-effective.
Course instructor Jorge Loyo, a lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said H^3 and three other teams in the semester-long class worked at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen to develop prototypes for Cantaro Azul Foundation. Loyo said NEWT plans to work with the foundation to test and improve technologies that could eventually be widely deployed in Chiapas.
“The foundation has an excellent water disinfection program that integrates technical solutions with communication strategies to impact and strengthen local water management,” Loyo said.
Rice University bioengineering students are building a device that can help people who have impaired sensation in their feet stay upright and avoid falls.
The students expect what exists currently as a tangle of wires, sensors, circuits and motors will someday be a simple powered insole that can go into any shoe to provide additional tactile sensation to improve the wearer’s motor skills.
That sensory feedback could prevent a tumble. For many elderly and patients with diabetes who might have lost some ability to feel their extremities, that can be a lifesaver.
Rice engineering students developed a sensor system that can help the elderly and those with impaired sensation in their feet avoid falls. From left: Daniel Zhang, Suzanne Wen, Yuqi Tang, Megan Kehoe and Allen Hu. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The team of Megan Kehoe, Yuqi Tang, Suzanne Wen, Daniel Zhang and Allen Hu, senior bioengineering majors working with faculty adviser Eric Richardson, accepted the challenge posed by Dr. Mehdi Razavi, director of electrophysiology clinical research at the Texas Heart Institute. Razavi asked students working on their required capstone projects at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen to find a way to help his patients maintain their balance.
The students, who call themselves “All the Feels,” solved the problem by dividing the foot into four zones. Under each they placed a sensor that measures the pressure on the foot, which is used to determine how much tactile sensation the user should feel. Above each sensor they placed a vibrating motor, not unlike that found inside a cellphone, to provide additional sensation to the wearer.
They hope wearers will eventually learn to process the feedback unconsciously and adjust their strides automatically to navigate stairs or uneven terrain.
“We’ve designed the system so it can be adjusted to the patient’s needs and degree of peripheral neuropathy,” Kehoe said.
Rice University engineering student Yuqi Tang models a prototype sandal that includes a set of sensors and motors intended to help the wearer stay balanced. The prototype was built as a senior capstone design project at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
“You’ll feel exactly where you’re applying pressure,” Wen said. “The amount of vibration is proportional to the amount of pressure: If you apply a lot, you’ll feel a lot; if you apply just a little pressure, you get just a little vibration.”
The four motor-sensor combinations under each foot operate with complete independence and were placed based on the areas of the foot that are most important for balance control. “How you respond to the vibrations shouldn’t be a conscious decision,” Kehoe added. “Your nervous system should react instantaneously.”
The sensors and motors live for the moment in the middle of a one-size-fits-all sandal for testing, but the students expect that all the elements, including a custom circuit board and the power supply, can be miniaturized. That way, a user could move them between pairs of shoes.
The team will demonstrate its invention at the George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase April 13. More than 80 teams will vie for cash prizes at the annual event, which will be open to the public from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Rigging standard dumbbells to keep a user from getting hurt during a solo workout is pretty smart. So the Rice University students who invented the system call themselves “Smart Bells.”
Five senior mechanical engineering students developed a three-point ratcheting system that allows athletes to do all the work when lifting dumbbells, but stops them in space if, for any reason, the user releases his or her grip on the weight.
Members of the Smart Bells team are, clockwise from left: Luke Daniels, Temo Tovar, Michael Groth, Joe Ballard and David Lipsey. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
The Smart Bells team expects to demonstrate its self-spotting dumbbells at the George R. Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase April 13. More than 80 teams will vie for cash prizes at the annual event, which will be open to the public from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse on the Rice campus.
The project came about at the request of the Rice Athletics Department, said Michael Groth, who built the device with fellow team members at the university’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. “They wanted something that would allow athletes to exercise with heavy dumbbells and not worry about having a spotter there,” he said.
“You don’t need a whole bunch of these for a gym, just one or two,” said teammate Luke Daniels, who noted the standard dumbbells are interchangeable. “Rice athletes often have crazy schedules, with courses and meetings and labs, and when you need to go work out outside of practice, you might not have anyone with you at that time.”
“If you can’t complete an exercise, there’s a lot of potential for injury,” Groth added. “They wanted a device that could safely protect exercisers while still allowing for free range of motion, so they get the benefit of using stabilizer muscles that dumbbells give and resistance machines do not.”
Rice engineering student Joe Ballard, left, and Luke Daniels adjust the prototype of their Smart Bells system at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
Train engineers recognize the basic idea behind Smart Bells as a dead man’s switch that stops a locomotive when a handle is released. But the students who selected the project as their required senior capstone design looked to a few more accessible inspirations as well.
“The spotting mechanism was inspired by car seat belts, because they already use a mechanism that pulls a retracting cable in when you want it to, and can also lock the cable,” team member David Lipsey said. “Seat belts have a much smaller ratchet-and-pawl mechanism.”
“And we thought about ratcheting tie-downs, which allow us to pull something in and won’t let us pull back the other way,” Temo Tovar said. “The way to implement that is with a ratchet and pawl. But we needed a way to disengage the pawl whenever a person wanted to be free to do the exercise.”
Luke Daniels checks a pulley system on the Smart Bells prototype. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
That required the simultaneous activation of solenoids on each motor with an easy-to-grip button on the dumbbell handle. When the handle and button are released, the solenoids release the spring-loaded pawl back onto the ratchet, which instantly freezes the weight. “Having the ratchet means you can still push it up, but you can’t pull it down,” Tovar said.
The students also drew inspiration from cable systems that suspend stunt actors required to fly through scenes, Groth added. “They have a three- or four-point cable system that moves them,” he said. “Having multiple cables balances out the horizontal force. We realized it was OK to just use three.”
The students plan to have two dumbbells rigged and ready for demonstration at the showcase, he said.
“A full system will require two sets of three motors, one for each hand,” said Joe Ballard, also a linebacker for the Rice football team. “We want to have buttons for each dumbbell for symmetry. You don’t want it to feel one way in one hand and feel differently in the other because that may throw you off when you use dumbbells outside of this device.”
Rice mechanical engineering lecturer Matthew Elliott is the team’s faculty adviser.
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