Engineering senior designs yield innovative projects

Tara Powers

The Mechanical Engineering Capstone Design Projects are the culmination of a senior engineer’s four years at Villanova.

This year, two groups, the NovaPod Aerodynamics Car Storage and the KidPower Water Pump, were especially noteworthy.

The idea behind NovaPod’s project was that as an SUV travels, a vortex, or vacuum, is formed behind the car, causing greater drag force and decreasing gas mileage.

Creating a shape on the back of the car would fill the space where the vortex had previously been and allow the quickly moving air to flow smoothly off SUV.

The team – which also included seniors Natalie Mera, Jessie Minott and Ryan Doyle – first did a vortex analysis, attaching strips of fabric to the back of an SUV and taking pictures as it drove down the highway to determine exactly where the vortex was and how much area it had to cover.

To decide on the shape of the pod, they molded shapes out of clay, taped them onto model cars and measured the drag of each shape in the CEER wind tunnel.

Once a shape was selected, the group set out to make a larger, life-sized version of the shape out of foam sheets. The shape was then fiberglassed and covered with a gel coat.

“We finally tested the pod, and despite running into a few disasters – parts of the pod attachments flying off in the middle of I-476 towards Allentown at midnight – our results showed that the pod increased gas mileage by 10 percent, which is what we expected based on a previous MATLAB simulation,”said senior Kaitlin Zdeblick, team leader for the NovaPod group.

In an equally ambitious fashion, the KidPower Water Pump project started out as an idea to produce a wind turbine that could be installed on a household rooftop.

However, the team – which was comprised of Alex Bamberger, Sarah Lasrado, Joe Pawelczyk, Jonathan Perkins and Jennifer Tansey – ultimately decided to use “kid power” to produce energy, and worked to create a playground toy that would harness that energy.

Constructing the device simply and out of entirely local materials would allow for a community to build the device on its own from simple instructions. It would also allow it to repair the device without outside assistance or great expenditures.

“We now had moved our project to have a design goal to pump water or produce energy, but it also must be locally sustainable,” Bamberger said.”After some thought, we came down to two possible designs – a merry-go-round or a seesaw.”

A seesaw is less complicated to construct, and could be made out of bamboo.

To create a sustainable pump, Bamberger’s group modified a bicycle air pump to pump water and attached it to a simple tubing system.

The bicycle pumps were attached to either side of the seesaw to pump up and down as the seesaw moves.

“A comprehensive assembly guide for the system will be created, including pictures, and then turned over to Jordan Ermillio, who is the contact for many of the engineering relief efforts in other countries,” Bamberger said of the project’s future.

All of the senior design projects were presented to judges – outside judgers representing such groups as Sunoco and Boeing, as well as engineering classmates, all of whom counted as one judge – from March 31 to April 1 in Driscoll Hall.

“After the event, the outside judges praised, in particular, NovaPod heavily for following the engineering process in detail,” Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering LeRoy Alaways said. “They also noted the usefulness of the KidPower pump.”

Alaways is also the current senior design coordinator and adviser for 12 of the groups, including the NovaPod and KidPower groups.

KidPower and NovaPod came in fourth and fifth places, respectively. The overall winner was the Mini-Baja Transmission, a novel transmission in its creative design and fabrication.

“I won’t miss coming home covered in fiberglass resin four days out of the week, but I am proud of the fact that our design accomplished what we wanted it to,” Zdeblick said. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll patent it.”