January 22, 2004
behind the university
highlights, upcoming games
notes, students, police log
listing of upcoming events
|Francis Crick '04 (above) displays a
homemade ATV to the class as the screen behind him shows the
remote's design with 3-D modeling software. (Staff photos Jon
Chase/Harvard News Office)
In class, off-road
Motivated engineering students take to the computer, the workshop -
and the roadIn the class "Computer Aided Machine
Design," students don't just talk the talk, they walk the walk - and race
the race. This introductory course in the design and construction of
mechanical and electromechanical devices peaks with students designing and
constructing a small fleet of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) that compete
with each other on a homemade obstacle course.
For two demanding weeks, students "reverse engineer" a common cordless
screwdriver, learning in this undoing process the function of the
screwdriver's basic parts. In the ensuing several weeks, they work in
teams of three or four to metamorphose the screwdrivers (with the help of
a few additional parts and $40 worth of gears) into remote-control ATVs.
Each ATV turns out to be a simple yet rugged, quick and powerful vehicle
that can conquer a grueling obstacle course.
To help build these tough little racers, students learn to use 3-D
modeling software. With the software, the students generate "code," i.e.,
instructions and measurements, that is fed into a lathe at the machine
shop to cut out custom pieces. The software, in effect, helps ensure that
the builders have pieces that are accurately sized and shaped.
As the finished vehicles take to the track, they compete in a range of
capabilities, most notably power (towing a heavy trailer up a ramp) and
maneuverability (driving through a "slalom" course made of beakers and
funnels). After these feats and a few more - traversing over circuit-board
"rubble," going through a tunnel, and other deeds of derring-do - the
vehicles are judged, winners are announced, and students go on to other
classes and other, somewhat less exciting, homework.
|Chris Johnson '07 (left)
maneuvers his vehicle down the homestretch. Team Dollar's vehicle
(right), sporting an identifying dollar bill on its antenna,
maneuvers over a rough stretch of terrain built with obsolete
|Professor Robert Howe applauds an
entry after its performance.