Mike`s Blog

Mike`s Blog- Creative Engineering

Can Engineering be Creative?

Usually when someone in the engineering field refers to something as “creatively engineered,” it is a clever way of suggesting that the item you just designed might be defying the laws of physics. In other words, you need to go back to the drawing board or nowadays the CAD screen. However, this expression got me thinking about one the most common complaints I hear from young students who are pondering entering the engineering field: “ I do not want to pursue engineering as a career because I am a creative person and I want to use that creativity in my job someday.” After some thought I think the view that engineering does not allow for creative expression is completely wrong. Engineering it by essence requires a creative process and here`s why..

Webster`s defines engineering as: the branch of science and technology that is concerned with building and use of engines, machines and, structures. Whereas creativity is defined as: the use of imagination or original ideas in the production of a work. Now let us sidestep to the process of engineering. The first step is analyzing the problem. This step often involves understanding the causality of the problem or imagining what is causing the issue. Once the problem is fully understood we move onto brainstorming or coming up with original ideas on how to solve it. Finally, we move onto the production stage or producing the work that has been designed. Through dictionary definitions and simple logic we have concluded that the process of engineering aligns perfectly with the definition of creativity.

Driving4education_header2-620x100-1 copy

However, engineering involves science and math and they are difficult and don’t seem very creative. This is true, I cannot counter the view that math and science are hard, believe me, I know. Nevertheless, I will say that engineering is not just science and math. Science and math are just tools that are used in the in the process. As put more eloquently by the president emeritus of MIT Dr. Woodie Flowers during the 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition opening ceremony, “knowing calculus is not rocket science, but knowing how to think using calculus is.”
.

I will admit that in the previous examples I slightly over simplified the engineering process to make a point. Nonetheless, the idea is the same: engineering involves understanding the problem, coming up with a solution to the problem, and finally making that solution to the problem a reality. In essence it is creative problem solving. Some of the greatest engineering accomplishments, were not a result of using great math or science, it was the result of coming up with a new and creative way to solve a problem. Designing a new type of car demands the same level of creativity as painting a picture. Because after all, engineering is an art form isn’t it?

-Mike
.

Mike`s Blog-The Chain Rule

The Chain Rule

 

Well, last time I ended the blog on the design of The Stig. Now the chassis is up and running. However, it was not all smooth sailing. As always with any engineering project there were a few kinks to work out.

Kink number one was the placement of the gearbox. The original design called for gearboxes that had a shaft drive. This means that the wheel can be bolted directly to the transmission, but the transmissions we had in stock were sprocket driven, meaning that wheel had to mount to a separate shaft, then the shaft had to be connected to the gearbox via chain (see picture). This in turn created problem number two: chain issues.

When the driver stomped the accelerator (well more like slammed the Xbox joystick to the forward most position) and subsequently retracted the joystick, the chain would bind or refuse to move. It would also caused a horrible, nails on a chalk board, grinding noise. This was due to the fact that the gearbox was slightly out of alignment with the frame. This is just a fancy way of saying that drive chain was crooked and caused the wheels to stop moving.

A some point during this time we got the crazy idea that our robot should not just be a prototype but should be built to competition specs. This meant that our robot would need some sort offensive device. So we did what any great inventor would do, we went rummaging through the spare parts and junk bin* (I might add that most of the robot was made from items found in this very bin). We managed to find a spare Frisbee shooter from this year`s robot, but it was missing a few key components. The Frisbee shooter also needed a frame and that was designed and built.

At this point The Stig is mostly complete, but there a still a few minor details to work out. As with any project, the devil is in the details. However, I can comment that the results of our initial testing are promising, despite the fact that when the robot runs it sounds like some is trying to start a lawnmower with the spark plug removed (result of the chain tensioning system).

 

 

 

-Mike

 

* Junk bin- (noun) Treasure trove of invention inspiration, Thesaurus- junk-yard, junk-heap, invention boneyard.

 

 

photo

Note the metal brace, this is where the gearboxes attach to the frame. Then the center shafts, which are attached to the wheels, will be driven via chain from the gearbox.

Mike`s Blog: “Some Say…it`s a robot”

 

 

“Some say it`s a robot”

 

 

One of the reasons I founded Driving4Education was because of my experience in the FIRST (www.usfirst.org) robotics competition as a student. For those who are unfamiliar, FRC is a robotics competition for high school students, in which students are given six weeks to design build and test a robot that competes in a defined game: basketball, soccer ultimate frisbee etc.  There are also mentors who assist the students in designing and building the robot.  I am now a mentor and my project this summer is to mentor a group of high school FRC team members, design and build a 6 wheel drive robot for this years game Ultimate Assistant.

 

Our first objective was to design the robot we wanted to build. Normally, we would devise a strategy before actually designing the robot, however we just decided to use the same strategy that worked so well this year. The design process began with the students and myself researching other teams 6 wheel robot designs. This gave the students a chance to brainstorm and get an idea of how they might design theirs. We decided on a west-coast drive with a drop center. This basically means that our drive train chassis is a rectangular shape made out of aluminum rectangle tube.

 

It has six wheels that are cantilevered (only supported one side) with a dropped center wheel. This allows the drivetrain to turn only two wheels but drive on four wheels in a straight line giving us increased maneuverability as well as traction. The finished product looks similar to a lumber cart from a home improvement store.

 

The next step is one of the most important in the design process, naming the robot. Thankfully, like myself, my students and fellow college mentors are all Top Gear UK fans. So we picked “The Stig” (hence the blog title). Well, some say that the next blog will be about how we built the Stig and the results of the initial testing. No seriously, it will be about just that.

 

 

-Mike

robot photo

A small glimpse of what`s to come