When quadrotors and Kinects combine…

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e haven’t talked about quadrotors, Kinect, and the cool engineering projects you can work on when you go to one of Oregon’s awesome engineering universities, in a while. But let it be known: the possibilities are endless, when you’re an engineer. And using a pre-invented idea like a quadrotor, or a pre-invented tool like the Kinect, is what engineering is all about: finding a creative new use for an existing tool.

Here’s the coolest part: in Oregon, quadrotor and Kinect projects are still fairly uncommon, so you can be one of the pioneers in the field, for our state.

Check out what MIT and and UW have done recently:

This project awesomely combines both quadrotors, and the Kinect.
Imagine doing something like this (or whatever you can think of)

Yeah, it’s kinda like that. Read some of the previous things we’ve talked about regarding quadrotors, and Kinect.

What skills will you need to work on a project like this, when you’re in college? It depends on what you want to do:

You could be the person who builds the quadrotor, which would make you a mechanical engineer; you’d need knowledge of physics, and an interest in building (did you ever enjoy LEGOs or something similar, or do you ever find yourself sketching designs for inventions or buildings?)

If you think you might like programming, think about the awesome things you could do one day by programming a Kinect.

You could also be the person who figures out how to connect the Kinect, power the propellers, wire this to the processor, and trasmit the data, which would make you an electrical engineer; you’d need a knowledge of some math and physics, and an interest in making things work (did you ever tinker with remotes or electronics, to figure out how they worked?)

Or, you could be the person who programs the built contraption, telling it how to balance itself in flight, map the room, navigate, or communicate the data, which would make you a computer scientist; you’d need a knowledge of math, and an interest in solving puzzles and problems (did you ever program your calculator to make math class easier, like solving riddles, or enjoy problem-solving brain games?)

Where Robotics and Chemistry Come Together For One Oregon Local

Some people love chemistry because it's the science of change. It's really beautiful to watch something turn into something else, right before your eyes.

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ecently we managed to contact and interview an Oregon resident with a very unique story. It’s really amazing to see where science and engineering can get people, no matter their interests. Walter Hendricks* now works in the US Army doing an exciting job.

How It Started

Walter grew up in Philomath, Oregon and moved to Beaverton after high school. He considers the valley his home, and loves the environment and the people.

But what he really loves is chemistry and technology. He says his interests really started blossoming when, at a young age, he played with a Dr. Dreadful chemistry cooking set…

[It] started with a lot of interesting “sciency” stuff to me, but ended with a large amount of disgusting sugar blobs. It crushed what little desire I was developing for cooking at that time since I was making the realization that cooking is a form of chemistry (for a few years at least) and threw my hard chemistry lust into an overdrive. It’s scared me away from eating most things sugary to this day.

With candy-phobia and an interest in science, he started realizing he was a little different than some other kids: “I was the weird kid that would do math problems for fun. A+B=C always intrigued me.

The TALON is one tool the US Army uses to disarm bombs. EOD technicians use robotics skills, combined with knowledge of chemistry, to make shrewd decisions about how to dispose of dangerous explosives.

Chemistry, Robotics and High School

Actually, mathematics and chemistry are very closely related. Chemistry consists of a lot of math-like equations for chemical reactions, and Walter knew this. He said, “it reminded me of a simple machine, and then I took that thought to the next level when I was old enough to play with fireworks. A+B=boom.

Walter’s interest in explosive chemistry was an unsafe one, but luckily he found an outlet for his interests in high school. Philmoath HS was doing research and development in the biodiesel industry, where he focused his chemistry interests.

But like many people our age, he had a great interest in robotics, too. For that, he joined FIRST Robotics in 2003, being a part of PHS’s Team PHRED (called Team 847 when he joined) and working both as a competitor and mentor until 2008.

EDIT: Here's an image of Walter with his former team, at the 2013 regional tournament.

In The Army

While maybe not for everyone, Walter enjoys his unique and highly-skilled job.

Once he got out of high school, he had a realization: “Everyone has that dream job and place they want to work. Work towards it, and never give up,” he says. And Walter knew what he had to do.

Combining his passions for robotics and chemistry, he joined the US Army and is now working as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal technician. It’s an exciting and dangerous line of work, where he uses his expertise in explosive chemical engineering and his mastery of robotics to disable explosives all around the world, and protect important people from danger.

I wouldn’t say science and technology skills are sneaking into my life, but more of hitting me in my face. I’ve had to do pressure calculations off the top of my head just to make sure no one would get hurt. Not something I expected to use from high-school. . .  I know a few people who would of listened more in math if they knew it would of helped them with taxes, saving money, or disarming a bomb.

Walter, when he's on leave from the army, loves playing Diablo 3 and other computer games.

Walter’s unique and risky line of work might not suit everyone, but it definitely shows that no matter how different your interests are, the world of engineering has a job for you. He has a few words of advice for everyone: “Settling for what you have can be be great for now, but sitting in one area gets too comfortable, and it’s the complacency that ends dreams.

Don’t be complacent. Find what you love, like Walter did, and do everything you can to pursue it.

*Walter Hendricks is a pseudonym; as his work is often classified, he asked that we don’t use his real name.

Human-powered aviation (or: “When aeronautical engineers get bored”)

UM's helicopter is made of carbon fiber trusses, and four huge, slow-moving blades. The whole gigantic thing weighs just 79 pounds. (Photo via UM)

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ust a little while back, we mentioned the Igor Sikorsky prize, a prize for human-powered flight which nobody has won yet. The conditions are simple: build a helicopter that is 100% human-powered, which can rise 3 meters in the air and hover for a full minute, and you win $250,000.

It’s sill un-won, but a team of university students in Maryland hopes to win it soon.

The name of the team’s human-powered helicopter (HPH) is Gamera II, named after the Japanese monster which rivaled Godzilla. Gamera is a jet-powered turtle which spins to fly.

Check out their HPH in the image above. And then watch this video, which shows their world-record, 50 second long flight:


This design takes advantage of ground effect, which gives the
craft additional lift when it’s close to the ground.

Research and work like this is common for grad students, and even undergrads, at universities in Oregon. At OSU, for example, there are the Formula One and Mini Baja racing teams, as well as a great Mars rover team, and many more engineering teams. PSU and other schools in the state have great engineering programs as well, so check them out.

Outdoor quadrotor aerobatics: for fun and for learning.

We’ve done a few features on quadrotors and how awesome they are. A lot of universities are doing research with them as they have very diverse capabilities. They can fly very precisely and very aggressively, and even build stuff.

But here’s one of the first videos we’ve seen with quadrotors doing their impressive thing outdoors.

This particular one is remote-controlled, but a lot of schools
do research with programming them to fly autonomously

A unit like this is only capable of flying this awesomely thanks to the people working on it. And we think we haven’t seen enough of these quadrotor projects in Oregon. These folks don’t appear to be doing it for school. It looks like they’re doing it just for fun.

But you do realize that when you get to college and you major in mechanical engineering or computer science, you’ll have to do some kind of impressive project to even graduate, right?

Which is kind of awesome, since it’s fun enough that people do it in their free time. We’re talking about being able to do something you might do for fun, for school. And we think that’s pretty cool.

Push to get your school a 3D Printer

3D printing is one of the new cool things out there, and now that it’s gaining steam people are finding a lot of uses for the technology.

One of those uses is in engineering. Since engineers create solutions to problems, they usually have to make or modify something to make that solution work. Those problems are unique a lot of the time, which means you need a one-of-a-kind part to make it work.

To give you an example: we recently talked about one unique problem that took a one-of-a-kind part in its solution. Instances like this are common.

The RepRap Mendel, a 3D printer that can build copies of itself.

As a lot of high-school-level engineers know, you do a lot of work with CAD and similar programs–doing 3D modeling to create. Now imagine if you could take your designs to the next level by printing them out. Imagine if you could design parts for your trebuchet project, which many high school engineering classes have (or at least some project like it).

Take that idea and the fact that some 3D printers are as cheap as $1400–which might sound like a lot for one person, but isn’t so much for an entire school’s entire science department to buy and share–and you’ve got yourself a feasible proposal to take to your school.

Talk to your science teachers, your folks, your science and engineering classmates–anyone who might agree and could somehow help–and get your school a 3D printer. One design that fits the bill for education is the RepRap Mendel, an open-design 3D printer which is designed to be affordable, self-replicating, and pretty easy to use.

Read on:

College goes spacebound: PSU’s doing experiments on the ISS

It’s no surprise that PSU is a great place for engineers. Besides a really great sustainability department, there are some professors who really throw themselves at what they do by teaching at multiple levels.

The International Space Station: Facility of international earthen experiments

As it happens, PSU has also got myriad programs to make use of their awesome facilities. For example, one room in PSU’s engineering building is currently being used to monitor an experiment they’re conducting on the International Space Station.

And true to the nature of the ISS, it’s an international project. PSU is working with the University of Bremen, a German school. Because of time zone differences, the project can get the 24-hour management it needs.

The project itself is pretty cool, too. The two schools ares testing how fluids (fuel, in this case) behave in space, to reduce the amount of bubbling (which is bad, and common in zero-gravity) and increase efficiency.

It’s a big step up from the drop-towers both PSU and University of Bremen have, which can only give a few seconds of zero-gravity.

All the equipment for this experiment was sent up via space shuttle last year, but just got set up a bit less than a month ago, and data only started getting collected on the 21st of September. The data collection will continue through the 15th, and maybe as late as the 29th.

 

Read on:

Engineering can treat cancer and peel grapes.

Engineering is more than just designing robots and using technology: it’s about solving problems to make the world a better place. The point is that engineering isn’t the end. It’s the means to an end. The end can be whatever you want: helping people in poverty, cleaning oil spills, revolutionizing the computing world, designing videogames, making space ships or helping the environment. All of these problems can be solved by a good engineer.

Most of the time, though, solving those problems necessitates using technology in some way. And here’s a really cool example:

Those scissors look scary until you remember that they’re smaller than a grape.

Controlled by a human, it gives the surgeon greater dexterity, and a much closer look at what they’re working on. Still in 3d, too. With this kind of control and dexterity, it’s much easier and safer to do very minute surgeries–like removing cancerous tumors, for example.