Project Title: Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Parachute System
Team 17078 Members:
Abdulmajed Almodhabri, electrical and computer engineering
Keenan Heller, mechanical engineering
Steve Miller, electrical and computer engineering
Christian Oropeza, industrial engineering
Nick Patzke, mechanical engineering
Jonathon Rea, mechanical engineering
Young Alum Employs Students to Design and Deploy Drone Parachutes
When his parents bought Pete Lauderdale II a drone, it didn’t take long to crash it. Luckily, it was only a minor run-in with the couch, but it got the 25-year-old UA alumnus thinking: Many drones travel upward of 40 mph and can soar miles from their earthbound pilots, but even for his relatively cheap drone, a crash could have unsalvageable — not to mention heartbreaking — results.
“It’s 800 dollars. If it falls out of the sky, there’s no way it’s going to land safely,” he said. “How do you stop an object like that from falling down and getting damaged?”
In addition, Lauderdale realized these drones represented a safety hazard after reading about Californian pedestrians getting hit in the head with falling drones, and about an incident in Turkey where a single plummeting drone injured 11 people.
An idea started to form, about a lightweight parachute that would automatically deploy when a drone started to lose altitude too quickly. Lauderdale’s market research determined there were only three or four other people in the world, all overseas, marketing similar ideas — he enrolled in Startup Tucson’s Thryve, a three-month intensive course about entrepreneurship.
“I’m not a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer,” he said. “But I’m hardworking, and I’m ready to find any avenue to get this thing completed.”
When he asked the folks at Startup Tucson how he might be able to get his product developed without breaking the bank, they suggested the Engineering Design Program. He was surprised — he was fresh out of college, not a major donor by any means. But not only did his completion of the Thryve course line up perfectly with the Engineering Design Program’s need for a few more challenging programs, he also learned that startups like his qualified for a hefty discount on the program.
In August 2017, he founded O-Chute.
A Team Comes Together
His Engineering Design Program team has been tasked with designing a lightweight product that works reliably at all altitudes; can be counted on to deploy reliably and not get tangled; and offers a user-friendly installation process.
He likes his team, and hopes they’re interested in sticking with the project because he’s certainly interested in hiring them on at O-Chute after graduation.
“Most of the senior design projects are from corporations or government entities,” said team member Steve Miller. “Pete is just a guy with a vision, and I liked the idea of working for that vision.”
“You have so many people working toward one goal, it’s really cool,” Lauderdale said. “They’re working so hard, so I know I’ve got to work harder.”
Once the design is finalized, Lauderdale plans to get a provisional patent, then a full patent, and hopes to leverage his background in international affairs to sell his product in other countries. He also wants to talk to insurance companies to see if people who buy his product can qualify for reduced deductibles on drone insurance.
The fruits of Lauderdale’s collaboration with Team 17078 will be on display at Design Day on April 30.
Bob Messenger graduated with his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from California State University Northridge in 1981. He is a retired Navy carrier pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours. Until his retirement in 2015, he served as program manager for Raytheon’s AIM-9X/F-22 integration program.
Currently, Messenger is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management and the colleges of Science and Engineering.
This is his third year as a mentor for the Engineering Design Program.
What inspired you to become a mentor in the first place?
I became a mentor to give back and contribute to our future engineering leaders.
How have you benefited from the experience of being a mentor?
I had various mentors in the military and during my civilian career, and mentorship was invaluable at supporting me in navigating difficult times during my career.
How does being on a mentored design team help students in the professional world?
They learn that they are not alone and that they can reach out to the experts that are all around them when they need support.
What do you enjoy about working with the students?
I have really enjoyed working with all the teams. One that was particularly interesting was the Modular Payload Bay design project for Northrup Grumman last year.
What advice would you offer to others considering mentoring a design team?
If it is something you are interested in, go for it. You’ll have tons of fun!
How do employers benefit when they hire students who have been on a mentored senior design team?
These students understand how to work on a project team in a collaborative environment and can hit the deck running when they are hired. It takes these students much less time to get up to speed than others.
Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to learn.
I had a career as a Navy carrier pilot where I cruised around the world and visited many exotic ports. I love to ski.
Project Title: Shallow Ground Natural Gas Aeration Improvement
Team 17045 Members:
Ali Amailou, mechanical engineering
Jamaal Jackson Ferguson, electrical and computer engineering
Nolan Nguyen, mechanical engineering
Erica Rao, mechanical engineering
Christopher Summersgill, mechanical engineering
Sponsor: Southwest Gas
Extracting Hazardous Gas Leaks From Soil
When natural gas pipes leak, Southwest Gas personnel remove the gas from the ground using a process called aeration, which involves creating a vacuum above ground that draws the gas out of the soil and ejects it into the atmosphere.
“When natural gas saturates the ground after a leak, it’s hanging out down there where it could be potentially hazardous,” said Josh Spivey, supervisor of construction at Southwest Gas and one of the sponsor mentors for the project, along with Dominique Mitchell and Philip Ciuffetelli. “But once it’s aerated out of the ground, it just dissipates because being lighter than air is one of the safety features of natural gas.”
A Cheaper, Quieter and More Efficient Solution
Team 17045 has been tasked with creating a cheaper, quieter and more efficient device for natural gas aeration. The team’s objective was to make the new model 10 percent more efficient. First, they ran a test of the existing model to determine its efficiency levels and establish a baseline of performance. Then they took measurements of the device’s pieces to render a 3-D computer model in SolidWorks and run a flow simulation. Once the results of their model were sufficiently close to the results of the real-world machine, they adjusted variables such as the size and shape of the chamber until the model was running with maximum efficiency. They made further adjustments to accommodate manufacturing needs.
“We wanted to make as many of the pipes and tubes as we could just purchasable online,” said student team leader Erica Rao. “Southwest Gas wants to be able to buy off-the-shelf components as much as possible.”
Mentors Bring UA Education, Real-World Experience
The team’s three mentors are all UA graduates themselves, and were eager for the chance to mentor students on this project.
“It’s a great project for the senior design team, but it’s also a great product we can actually use,” Mitchell said. “It’s about trying to do something quickly but safely to remove the gas from the ground.”
The students said they benefit from the advice of fellow engineers, whether it’s about the basics of welding or how to work with air traveling at supersonic speeds. But their mentors are proud to say that this really is a student-run project, with the mentors there only for guidance.
“The students are there to solve the project for us. They have skill sets and resources that we don’t have at Southwest Gas,” Spivey said. “It could be used across our entire company, pending the right results.”
Team 17045’s project will be on display at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Design Day on April 30.
Project Title: Customer-Optimized Power Use and Cost
Team 17022 Members:
Hadi Almakaiel, mechanical engineering
Dylan Carlson, electrical and computer engineering
Kendall Collier, systems engineering
Daniel Miranda, electrical and computer engineering
Liam Spinney, electrical and computer engineering
Sponsor: Tucson Electric Power
Getting a Peek at Energy Peaks
Most people tend to use energy at the same times of day. For example, Tucson Electric Power reports its peak hours are from 3 to 7 p.m. in the summer and from 6 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. during the winter. Because electricity is more expensive for TEP to produce during these hours, it’s also more expensive for the customer. Customers can opt into a cheaper payment plan by not using electricity during peak hours.
However, some people don’t know their own energy use habits very well, and some have a hard time navigating TEP’s tiered plans. Enter team 17022.
“The idea behind our project is to create a system that measures how much power people are using and calculates cost,” said team member Dylan Carlson. “Then it presents that information, so people can determine what they can do to save money without changing their energy use.”
A Powerful Tool for Monitoring Power
To achieve this, the team is developing software and hardware to monitor data and display it to customers. First, there’s a current transformer that customers can plug devices into, which will monitor how much electricity they use throughout the day.
“Basically, you’ll be plugging your refrigerator — or whatever appliances you want to monitor — into our device,” Carlson said.
The software side of the project involves creating an interface that allows customers to view their energy use patterns and decide on ways they might be able to shift their usage to cheaper times. For example, if a person discovers from the data that they usually do laundry from 6 to 7 p.m. during the winter, they could shift their laundry routine from 5 to 6 p.m. and save money by avoiding peak usage times.
“A lot of what they’re doing in this project is only possible now because it requires computers, databases and internet access to systems that control the house,” said the team’s college mentor, Dave Gilblom. “They couldn’t have done that 10 years ago.”
Data Collection and Weatherproofing For the Future
The team is conducting accuracy testing to make sure their hardware is correctly capturing data, and developing weatherproof boxes for customers who want to monitor outside devices. They hope the project will ultimately lead to cheaper electricity bills for Tucson and beyond.
“I thought it was pretty relatable,” said student team leader Kendall Collier. “Everyone has a power bill, and everyone pays it. It’s something that I could use and would affect my life.”
Team 17022 will be displaying their energy use software and hardware at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Design Day on April 30.
Project Title: Installation Design of Phase Change Material in Residential Homes
Team 17066 Members:
Nofal Alkhunaizi, engineering management
Nic Balda, mechanical engineering
Tyler Farley, industrial engineering
Alex Gill, mechanical engineering
Tanya Turner, mechanical engineering
Lorelei Wong, industrial engineering
Sponsor: Salt River Project
Keeping Casas Cool
Most Tucsonans are familiar with the spike in their electricity bill that comes with the summer months. They’re also familiar with the fact that this comes mostly from running air conditioning units during the day.
Phase change material, or PCM, could change that. PCM is a material that can store and release large quantities of energy by melting and resolidifying. Its heat-absorbing properties are already used to keep some industrial buildings cool during the summer.
In a project sponsored by the Salt River Project, Team 17066 is examining a way to install PCM into existing residential homes.
Saving Money Through Off-Hours Energy Use
The team is investigating a material that changes phase at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that when the outdoor temperature exceeds 77 degrees, heat energy is channeled into melting the PCM, thus slowing the transfer of heat energy into the building. On the other hand, when temperatures dip below 77 degrees in the evening, the cooler air has to resolidify the PCM before the air can cool the inside of the house. Even if this means running the air conditioner in the evenings, it has the benefit of shifting energy use out of peak demand hours, when — thanks to the law of supply and demand — electricity is more expensive for both utility companies and customers.
“If the Salt River Project could flatten the peaks out, it would be less costly to them and obviously less costly to the customer,” said Steve Larimore, the team’s college mentor.
The students said one of the trickiest parts of their project is devising a system for retrofitting existing buildings, rather than designing new buildings or even taking measures like tearing down walls. But the challenging nature of the project has led to some creative methods of getting PCM into a house. For example, installing it in an attic — similar to the way it’s used in industrial buildings — is ideal, but not every home has an attic.
Drawing the Curtains on Excess Heat
Much of the heat that enters a house comes in through the windows, so the team is experimenting with PCM-filled curtains to block the heat. They’ve also investigated incorporating PCM into large pieces of furniture, such as beds or dressers; using customizable, decorative boxes that hang 4 to 6 inches below the ceilings; and even hiding the PCM behind large pieces of canvas artwork.
The team has started off by building a model house, a 3-by-3-foot box that they’ll try retrofitting with PCM in different configurations. Then they’ll shine a heat lamp on the box to simulate summer weather conditions and hook up an AC unit. If they find a setup that works well, they’ll pursue the results further by running similar tests on a software model. Hopefully, the students say, they’ll be a part of a project that affects homeowners everywhere for the better. In the meantime, they’re learning from and enjoying the process.
“There’s a lot of excitement leading up to the senior design project, because it has such real-world application and teams get to work with a real budget, but it lives up to the hype,” said team member Nic Balda. “I can definitely see why it’s one of the top-rated design programs in the nation.”
See this project and other designs that could change the way we live at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Design Day on April 30.