Department News


by Alissa Mallinson


First-ever MIT Maker Faire attracts nearly 3,000 attendees to campus


The first MIT Mini Maker Faire, which took place on campus this past October, attracted more than 100 makers and nearly 3,000 attendees. Credit: J. Ramos

This past October, nearly 3,000 attendees ascended upon the North Court of MIT campus for the first-ever MIT Mini Maker Faire. A celebration of STEAM and the fun of making, the faire — part of the Maker Faire series started by the editors at Make magazine — featured 110 exhibitors. More than half of these were MIT affiliates, while the rest were local makers. Adults and children, beginners and hobbyists, advocates and experts all made their way through booth after booth of creators, technologists, scientists, engineers, and artists, under three separate circus tents, then over to the go-kart race course and finally on to the panel discussions taking place inside the Ray and Maria Stata Center. Children sat on the edge of their seats in front of the all-day robot tournament as adult audience members cheered on their favorite bots, built and entered into the tournament by MIT and local makers. Attendees stood in awe of the MIT Hobby Shop exhibit, which displayed exquisite craftworks by Hobby Shop members, including instructor Brian Chan (SB ’02, SM ’04, PhD ’09). “What you see here,” said a lead organizer and dual MechE/Engineering Systems Division graduate student Jessica Artiles of the faire’s success, “is that little extra bit of passion that compels us [at MIT] to stay up at night.” The event was organized almost exclusively by MechE students and staff, and sponsored in large part by the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Read more.


Team of MechE and CSAIL students wins grand prize in Maritime RobotX Challenge


The MIT-Olin team won the grand prize at this year’s Maritime RobotX Challenge.

An MIT-Olin team took home the grand prize this October from the 2014 Maritime RobotX Challenge in Marina Bay, Singapore. The Maritime RobotX Challenge, which was funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), invited 15 student teams from five countries to build an unmanned surface vehicle that could best address real-world problems, such as search-and-rescue missions, shipping security, environmental monitoring, fishery management, and marine science. Each team received a skeletal 16-foot vehicle and was challenged to add propulsion, computing, sensor, navigation, and power systems. MIT students equipped the vessel with the MIT Open Source software system called MOOS-IvP, a suite of modules taught in Professor Henrik Schmidt and Dr. Michael Benjamin’s class 2.680 (Marine Autonomy, Sensing, and Communications), of which many team members were alumni. They also included a Velodyne HDL-32E LIDAR sensor, a Hemisphere GPS system, a top-mounted web camera, a four-element hydrophone array, and four separate computing systems to distribute the computational load of the autonomy and sensor processing systems. All four computers communicated with one another using the MOOS Open Source middleware, initially developed at MIT by Paul Newman. The MIT-Olin team also won the Best Paper Award (tied with a team from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia) and the Open Source Award for the technical help they gave to Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) during the competition. Learn more at the MIT-Olin team’s website.


MechE-ChemE Startup Named Gold Winner in MassChallenge


DropWise, a new startup created by MechE Associate Professor Kripa Varanasi; ChemE Professor and Associate Provost Karen Gleason; MechE postdoc Adam Paxson (SB ’09, SM ’11, PhD ’14); and ChemE postdoc David Borelli (SM ’11, PhD’ 14), was recently named a Gold Winner at the MassChallenge 2014 Accelerator Program, out of 1,600 entrants. DropWise manufactures a “grafted” hydrophobic coating that, when applied to condenser surfaces in power plants, prevents water from building up on pipes and slowing down the condensation process. The coating, which causes water droplets to quickly bead up and shed themselves from a surface, is one two-thousandth the thickness of a sheet of paper so that it itself doesn’t block condensation, but it is also strong enough to survive years of steam exposure. In addition to inventing the coating, the team has also developed a novel approach for scaling up the manufacturing process to an industrial level and enabling the coating to stick to surfaces through strong chemical bonds. The DropWise team expects that the new technology can save 0.58 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through improved efficiency — more than either solar or wind power. Watch a video about DropWise.


Inaugural MechE Graduate Research Exhibition


The first MechE Grad Research Exhibition took place this past October.

This past October, the Graduate Association of Mechanical Engineers (GAME) hosted the inaugural MechE graduate research exhibition, sponsored by the Department of Mechanical Engineering, to encourage community, collaboration, and communication skills among MechE students, faculty, and staff. The event – which was organized by GAME President Lee Weinstein, Vice President Natasha Wright, and MechE Day Chair Ranjeetha Bharath, along with Professors Nick Fang and Franz Hover – ran from 10am to 5pm on a Saturday afternoon at MIT’s Ray and Maria Stata Center. It featured research presentations – in the form of videos, demos, and posters – from approximately 70 graduate students, who were judged by a medley of MechE students, staff, and alumni. Altogether there were close to 300 attendees throughout the day, including several MechE faculty and alumni, as well as MechE alum and keynote speaker Mick Mountz, CEO and founder of Kiva Systems. GAME awarded several prizes to the students who scored highest for their presentations. The top prizes went to Meng Yee Chuah, Daniel Dorsch, and Michael Buchman.


Undergrad Develops Robust Distro Optimization Program, Starts Company


MechE sophomore Doug Coughran and his brother Patrick won the MIT $100K Pitch Competition in November.

A senior in mechanical engineering with a concentration in manufacturing, Doug Coughran, along with his brother Patrick – an undergraduate student at Tufts University studying computer science – realized that their skill sets were complementary. This got them thinking about what they might be able to accomplish if they put their minds together. They spent many family holidays discussing the details of their idea over dinner; now their product is on the market, and their company Foxtrot is garnering quite a bit of attention, not least of which was winning the MIT $100K Pitch Competition this past November. It’s a web-based distribution optimization program for small businesses that deliver. The monthly-subscription-based program allows users to enter their distribution information, such as locations and time windows, onto the web site, and it instantly spits back the best route for each driver, for each day, accounting for fuel cost and driver cost. It also offers live rerouting based on changing criteria such as traffic patterns. These optimized routes can be sent directly to drivers’ smartphones, and they can be updated in real time as necessary. The Coughran brothers hope that Foxtrot can also be utilized in developing countries to distribute food, water, and other relief, as well as to reduce carbon emissions around the world. Read more at the company web site.