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Engineering Rescue Devices More Than Child's Play

April 25, 2006

In the beginning of the spring semester, ASU freshman engineering students at the Polytechnic campus were assigned the task of developing a rescue device that operates automatically for use by parents and/or emergency responders to rescue a child or pet from a burning building.

As a class project, they were to design, manufacture, assemble and test a prototype system that safely transports a small child or pet to safety from a height between 3 to 10 meters, roughly the height from a second floor window on a house.

The seven teams met April 13 and 18 at a second floor balcony of an empty building to test their devices using a doll named Alley who was filled with buckshot and weighed about 15 pounds. The devices ranged from the simple to quite complex prototypes.

On test day, students placed Alley into their devices, attempting to avoid exceeding the acceleration requirement of 2g and stopping within 5 centimeters of the ground.

"The project exposes students to engineering theory relating to dynamic mechanics," says Chell Roberts, chair of the Department of Engineering at the Polytechnic campus. "They had to consider variables like speed, acceleration, friction and other aspects when building their prototypes."

Students designed and manufactured their products using bike tires, buckets, baskets, wire, pulleys, PVC piping to name a few materials. The good news is all the devices worked, albeit at varying degrees of success. Those experiencing slight technical difficulties during the first test had a second chance to redeem themselves.

Each team was graded on team skills, system operation and packaging, and successful completion of meeting the project requirements.

"In addition to learning the theory, the project helped students learn how to work together as a team, how to identify the strengths each brings to the table, and how to recognize different approaches and determine what works best to solve the problem," says Roberts. "Plus, project-based assignments fit well in a polytechnic, learn by doing environment."

This is the third project that the freshman class completed this academic year. Next fall, students will work on an underwater robotics project.