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Senior Design Projects in Engineering

It isn't often that undergraduate students capture the attention of the United States military. It's pretty rare when an engineering senior design project is so successful that it's considered one of the top examples of ingenuity and creativity in student collaborations. Those who can, ignore the statistics and strive for outstanding undergraduate experiences.

Silo Climbing Robot  

Built by UMD mechanical engineering undergraduate students in 2011, the senior design project was a robot that climbed a 90-foot, curved silo, and then pulled a 180-pound man attached to a harness. With his feet firmly planted at a 90-degree angle, the man literally walked up the side of the building with the robot spinning the rope through a winch pulley system from the top of the silo.

“It was incredible to see it work,” said Bill Pedersen, UMD mechanical and industrial engineering assistant professor, as well as senior design project advisor. “There were 18 competitors out of 20 who showcased their robots before UMD; we were the first group to successfully reach the top.”

Among the competitors were students from MIT and Utah State, the latter group placing first because their robot was able to climb the silo, and then navigate a ledge that ran the circumference of the silo. “The UMD robot was built to remain solidly against the surface,” said Pedersen. “In order to climb over the ledge, the robot would have had to ‘step’ over it.”

The UMD robot prototype was so uniquely designed, however, that even after the first place winner was announced, a representative from the United States Air Force has since contacted Pedersen with an interest in the concept of the project. “The ingenuity of the robot was unbelievable,” said Pedersen. “I simply scoped the project, and then the students took on the rest. This is their work, their success.”

What set UMD apart from their competitors was all in the method of attaching a free-moving object to a surface, and then remotely guiding it with a hand-held control. “We modeled the suction from the design of jet airplanes,” said UMD senior Karl Parvi. “Instead of a vacuum pump that sucks air in, we went after the idea of what a water pump is designed to do.”

In other words, the robot suctions the air from underneath, and then pushes the air out through a pipe in the back, creating a pulling and pushing motion that keeps the robot in place on a vertical surface; the robot is then controlled by a student on the ground who guides the machine much like a remote control car. Once the robot reaches the top of its destination, a hammer drill goes into action by drilling a hole wherein an anchor is firmly put into place. A rope is attached to the anchor, and the person on the ground is fitted into a harness attached to the rope. The robot is signaled by remote control to begin pulling. The person is brought to the top in a matter of moments.

“This project,” said UMD senior Clayton Hunt, “was an amazing opportunity to conceptualize, design, and build a robot for a real-world application. Just think of how it could be utilized: search and rescue, hostage retrieval. The list goes on. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of this team at UMD.”

Current Projects in the Works

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Written and Designed by Christiana Kapsner, October 2012

Photography by Justin Capelle

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