Young at heart
This year’s crop of graduate design shows produced a wealth of good ideas. Tom Shelley and Lou Reade report
Many engineers complain that there is a lack of talent among younger engineers, and that there are few people ready to take up the mantle of engineering excellence.
Eureka’s experience over the summer has been somewhat different. While it is true that engineering numbers are dwindling – and there has never been a greater need to boost the numbers of engineering students – there is certainly no lack of talent within design engineering.
We visited several ‘end of year’ design shows over the course of the summer. What you see here is a selection of ideas that caught the eye – there were many other ideas out there that we simply do not have space to print.
Mark Kilby from Bournemouth University has come up with the idea of using a ring of wind turbines round the inside of the tunnel approach to a London Underground station to extract and harness some of the energy from slowing trains.
He calculates that if each turbine was 250mm in diameter and had five blades, the 16m/s speed of the air being dragged along by the train would spin the turbine at 2,444 rpm. This would produce 150V at 15A or 2250W of power for the 20s that it would take each train to go past. Just four turbines would then produce 43.3 MJ per day.
He has designed suitable turbines using software available online at Club Cycom and then performed finite element analysis on the blades using the FEA facility within SolidWorks. He says he would envisage making the turbines out of aluminium alloys rather than steel in order to avoid build up of magnetised brake dust.
At present, slowing London Underground trains dissipate all their kinetic energy by applying their brakes. There is no attempt to recover energy by regenerative braking. The heat energy released by the braking trains has to be removed by ventilation systems.
Royal College of Art graduate Will Penfold has come up with the idea of reusable packaging made of polypropylene, which can be rolled up for easy returning.
He says: “Packaging waste is one of our most visible and damaging environmental problems, and it is forecast that the UK will run out of landfill space in 10 years. Roll and return is a re-usable packaging solution, which will greatly reduce waste and is rewarding for the consumer. After use, the reusable boxes conveniently roll for easy return where they are used again and again.”
The prototype examples made for demonstration at the RCA’s summer show looked like conventional printed, corrugated cardboard cartons, but were made out of what he described as a “Type of polypropylene used in the automotive industry”. What he had done was to take thin sheets, and then corrugate them on a heat press. He said that it should be possible to re-use each box, “More than ten times” after which, the plastic could be re-cycled. He saw first uses in transit packaging rather than consumer packaging, although it is the latter which is his primary target. The printing had been done with stickers, although he pointed out that it is possible to print polypropylene. His particular method of forming the boxes in such a way that they can be collapsed and rolled up for return has been patented.
Dutch designer Rombout Frieling – an innovation fellow at RCA – has developed a means of going up and down in a building by repeated sits. He insists it is more energy efficient than walking up and down stairs – and requires much less building space.
He calls his machine a Flupper, and the act of using it ‘Fluppering’ – which he describes as “lightly balancing between two flups”, or sits. The method has been developed and tested using a 6m high test rig, and displayed at the RCA’s summer show.
During descent, the flups transfer energy into a spring-loaded module. During ascent, this energy is released to assist elevation, lifting up to 95% of body weight. Patents have been applied for.
A novel “end effector for a wheelchair-mounted robotic arm” is unique in that is consists of two jaws with belts within them that can be driven.
Using this arrangement, it is possible to take a book out from a shelf of books and replace it, handle a plastic coke bottle without crushing it, and also undo a screwed on cap.
The design has won its inventor, Robin Read from Middlesex University, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Vicon prize for the best project involving the design or development of a medical device.
Despite its sophistication, the whole arrangement is driven by a single electric motor through differential gears.
“My interests within this field are systems that provide assistance and rehabilitation in application,” he says. “However, I am still a very firm believer that robotics has a massive scope of potential within many aspects of the human society.”
A patent has been applied for.
Also from Middlesex, Andreas Nydahl designed what he describes as “glueless, screwless joints”
Using what he called an engineered wood – a US product made from bonded, compressed wood chips, which is much stronger and denser than chipboard – he has devised a family of methods for joining pieces together using friction alone.
Corner joints are joined using aluminium elements that take the form of rectangular zig-zigs that can be pressed in. To make a table leg joint, a groove is cut around the top of the leg, into which fit machined, rimmed recesses on plank edges. The planks are then pressed together with the leg tops between.
Machined accuracy is key, and in order to work, metal parts have to be cut by waterjet, and wood parts CNC machined.
Following an incident in which her grandmother sprained her wrist putting out her rubbish for collection, Sarah-Jayne Williams has come up with a trolley pod that allows a wheelie bin to be equipped with castors, plus a simple brake to lock them.
She undertook her development as part of her Design Technology course at the University of Derby. The pod has been designed to be fitted to a 140 litre bin but can also be used on a 240 litre bin. It attaches to the bin with two adjustable forks under the front top lid, which raises the unit by about 40mm to allow the base plat to be slid under and snapped into place. The forks can be adjusted to fit to any manufactured bin. The brake works by pressing down a bar, which presses a shoe onto the top of one of the castor wheels.
Williams said: “Gran got injured putting out the rubbish and when the bins are full they are awkward to manoeuvre. When I carried out the market research I found many elderly and disabled people struggled to move the wheelie bins, especially when they are full of waste.”
A patent has been applied for.
Derek Wright, a graduating student at London South Bank University, has designed and prototyped a solar water pasteurisation system, suitable for use in hot countries, which uses no external power and is controlled by a car radiator thermostat.
He explained, when we met him, that water does not have to be boiled to kill micro-organisms – heating it to 65ºC for more than five minutes will kill 99.99%. He calculates that his machine would heat water to 74ºC at Tanzanian latitudes (though it only reaches 45ºC in the UK).
The water uses photovoltaic panels and a small pump to circulate the water through pipes, each of which is at the focus of a cylindrical reflector. Key to achieving the required temperature is the car thermostat, which ensures that water is only delivered to the holding tank if it has been heated to the right temperature – otherwise it goes round again until it has.
Another invention involving water and solar power comes from Angelo De Chiara of De Montfort University. It is a solar-powered pump that sucks water from a water butt, then sprays it out near the ground, to water roots but not leaves.
His idea is that it should particularly appeal to the elderly, who have time to garden, but may have difficulty carrying a watering can full of water about. He envisages that it should be equipped with 25m of ¼ inch hose, and the spray would be activated by pressing a trigger on the spray head, which would release pressure and lead to a flow switch turning the pump on.
He calls it the “Eco Hose”. The concept exists as a non-working mock-up.
Chris Willmott of Brunel University has devised a demonstrator for an ‘immersive multimedia environment’ – based on his interest in audio technologies.
“Most virtual reality systems are visually realistic, but none include an audio element that is like everyday life,” he says.
There are two main elements to his system: a position locator – realised with the help of position sensors in a Nintendo Wii handset; and the use of ‘binaural sound’ to create a realistic sound environment.
Binaural sound is true 3D sound: the buzzing of a helicopter, for example, appeared to be circling, even though it was only being played through standard headphones. The effect is created by altering certain wavelengths in the sound, to mimic what happens as it enters the human ear.
Willmott says that the system could be used to process complex data in applications such as air traffic control. The 3D sound would cause the user to turn towards it, which would bring up a particular information screen. A similar principle might be used for monitoring a series of security cameras – or possibly by fighter pilots.
“My main aim was to get on the same level as how we experience reality,” says Willmott.
Solar pasteurisation of water: Email email@example.com
Wheelie bin pod: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Robot arm: email@example.com
Roll-up packaging: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wind turbine on the tube: Email email@example.com
Wood joints: www.andreasnydahl.com
Eco hose: Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Multimedia environment: www.pentascape.com
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