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Design Projects Challenge Seniors to Make a Difference

Tuesday, May 05, 2015
Students work with mini racetrack at Children's Museum.

Lending a hand: Rose-Hulman seniors have created some fun for kids visiting the Terre Haute Children's Museum by developing a motion sensor-activated racetrack exhibit.

It's hard to tell what children like better-the skeleton-like image of their hands waving around on a small television screen or a miniature race car zooming around the Indianapolis-style race track.

Either way, youths enthralled with the new race track exhibit at the Terre Haute Children's Museum have Rose-Hulman students to thank for their fun times. Infrared sensors take the place of an accelerator pedal, controlling the toy car's speed around the oval track. Another feature includes a fuel gauge and tire wear displays, warning the driver when it's time to make a pit stop, just like a real racer. Refueling and new tires are provided by pressing a button.

"I like watching kids have fun with it," says senior mechanical engineering student Stuart West while watching children use the exhibit after its spring unveiling.

Every year, Rose-Hulman seniors put their knowledge and creativity to work on a variety of special projects for clients around the community, country, and world. These projects cover everything from engineering new specialized software to designing new public parks.

"Senior-year capstone projects allow students to connect with the community and improve peoples' lives," says biomedical engineering professor Renee Rogge, who helps coordinate the department's senior design course. "A lot of students come here wanting to make a difference. In senior design, you get to see them start that journey."

Biomedical engineering students have created a specially designed all-terrain manual wheelchair to provide greater accessibility for Drew Christy, a former Rose-Hulman student who experienced a traumatic brain injury in a February 2008 automobile accident. The wheelchair also will encourage better posture (to improve feeding), and an iPad application will allow the patient to better communicate with others through touch-pad technology.

"This project is a game-changer for our family, and will allow us to easily move Drew to watch athletic activities, which he loves so much," says Drew's mother, Debbi. "We can't wait to use the wheelchair. Drew's improving mobility has been a direct result of this and other projects completed during the past four years. We're very grateful for the students' great ideas."

This year's civil engineering projects have asked student teams to create an access road and fish passage channel for a Native American reservation in eastern Washington, design new shelters for Indiana state parks, and convert a former drive-in theater in Indianapolis into a multi-use green community. Other projects featured designing a 1,000-pupil parochial school in India, seeking to improve the sewage and rainwater management system for Peru, Indiana, and drawing up the plans to establish a possible pedestrian trail pathway to the Wabash River in downtown Terre Haute, Indiana.

Robotic Artist

Drawing on their knowledge: Rose-Hulman seniors have programmed a robot "artist" to duplicate images as part of a long-term project to create something "unexpectedly beautiful" with modern robotics.

Also this year, computer science students have been busy developing computer programs to solve an assortment of perplexing problems. For example, clients asked students to create an application to improve reading comprehension for people with autism, help start-up companies showcase their products without traditional marketing, and create an algorithm to schedule and pre-register students for Rose-Hulman classes. Other senior-year computer science projects have expanded the artifacts and antiquities registry for the Smithsonian Institution and utilized polynomial regression to predict the next "hot" new products in high-end technology and computer programming.

Not all capstone projects are tackled in one year. Two mechanical engineering seniors and one computer science senior spent this year taking the initial steps in a multi-year project, sponsored by economics and mechanical engineering alumnus Andrew Conru, to program an industrial robot to create artwork using paints and an artist's canvass. The first steps of that project were strong enough to earn the $5,000 first prize in an international robotics competition sponsored by ABB, a Swedish industrial robotics company.

"There's something intrinsically beautiful about putting paint on a canvas," Conru says.