ES 51 drives home the principles of engineering design

1 min read

Undergraduates in Engineering Sciences 51: “Computer-Aided Machine Design” had spent a semester learning to design gadgets in SolidWorks, building candy-flinging catapults, and mastering the use of the soldering iron.

Then came the jaw-dropping final assignment: “Transform a cordless power screwdriver into a functional all-terrain vehicle.”

The students were given a small kit of extra materials, including gears, screws, and wheels, beyond the three allotted screwdrivers, but—five weeks from start to finish—this do-it-yourself construction project was no LEGO® Technic set.

“The goal is to teach them the basics of design,” said Neil Tenenholtz, a second-year graduate student and teaching fellow for the course, who was helping students assemble chassis and controllers in the lab. “Until this point in the class, we’d give them a design and say, ‘Go make this.’ Now we’ll see if they can put the two parts together.”

“We teach them in class about gears and screws,” Tenenholtz said, “but getting two gears to mesh well in practice? You don’t realize how hard that is until you apply it.”