Department News


Two Instructors Win Best Paper Award


Students race the go-karts they build in 2.00G. Photo by Tony Pulsone

Dr. Dawn Wendell (SB ’04, SM ’06, PhD ‘11), a senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Charles Z. Guan (SB ‘ 11), a technical instructor in MIT-SUTD Collaboration, have authored a paper that will receive the 2015 Best Paper of the ASEE Manufacturing Division Award at this year’s American Society for Engineering Education Conference, taking place this June in Seattle, Wash. The paper, titled “2.00GoKart – Using Electric Go-Karts to Teach Introductory Design and Manufacturing at MIT,” introduces an experimental lab section of the introductory design and manufacturing class, 2.007, in which small teams of sophomore students are challenged to build and race a working electric go­kart in the span of one semester. Students who have little to no experience in building mechanical and electrical systems develop skills in design concept selection, detailed optimization of select components, CAD software, design for assembly, and design for repair. The paper demonstrates how such a project class can help build students’ confidence and their retainment of learned material, and how this structure for project­ based learning may be applicable to the development of similar programs nationwide.

MIT Team Competes in Amazon Picking Challenge


Professor Rodriguez and his team test their robotic hand before the Amazon Picking Challenge. Photo by John Freidah

During this year’s International Conference for Robotics & Automation (ICRA), e-commerce giant Amazon hosted the first annual Picking Challenge to uncover commercially viable solutions for the automated picking of goods for warehouse packing and shipping. Assistant Professor Alberto Rodriguez led a team of five MIT graduate students in this challenge this past May. The final set of participating teams, including the MIT team, was narrowed down from 30 entrants, and each team was tasked with building a robot that could pick a particular subset of products and put them on a table in a 20-minute timeframe. The robots were scored by how many items they were able to pick and place, with $26,000 in prizes being awarded to the winning teams. The winning robot demonstrated an ability to grab and grip small objects in tight spaces amidst a binful of other objects, and its creators presented a solution to object recognition, pose recognition, grasp planning, compliant manipulation, motion planning, task planning, task execution, and error detection and recovery. Read more about Professor Rodriguez’s research.

A Day of MechE Innovation


John Hennessey gives an engaging talk in the first of the Inspiring Engineering Lecture Series. Photo by Tony Pulsone

This past May, the Department of Mechanical Engineering celebrated MechE innovation with a full day of festivities, starting with the annual de Florez Award Competition, which awarded $20,000 in prizes to undergraduate and graduate students for their innovative engineering science and design projects. Later in the day, the new “Inspiring Engineering” Lecture Series began with a talk by John Hennessey, of Hennessey Performance, maker of the world’s fastest production car at 270 mph. Hennessey spoke to a crowd of students, faculty, and alumni about the obstacles and successes he experienced on his journey toward breaking the record speed. This year’s 2.007 Final Robot Competition took place later that evening, at Johnson Ice Rink. Students of the class spent most of the spring semester building their robots, then sent them “Hack to the Future” to see who could earn the most points by collecting plutonium, climbing the clock tower, sliding Doc Brown down the cable, and opening the DeLorean door. After an exciting night of tense “Back to the Future”-themed faceoffs, sophomore Ali Edwards took home the gold, followed by Yamile Pariente in second place, Amado Antonini in third, and Brian Yue in fourth.

New Maker Space Opens in MechE in Partnership with MIT Trust Center


Provost Martin Schmidt cuts the ribbon with two MechE student machine masters at the grand opening of ME Maker Works. Photo by Tony Pulsone

This past May, MechE proudly unveiled its new student-run, state-of-the-art maker facility, ME MakerWorks. The new space, located in building 35, will provide MechE students, staff, and faculty with convenient after-hours access to technology, equipment, and mentorship for academic and hobby projects. It hosts multiple 3D printers and laser cutters, a water-jet cutter, a mill, a shop-bot, a lathe, electronics fabrication, hand tools, and several other maker tools. MakerWorks aims to foster a student community and hands-on learning environment wherein a culture of safety is combined with prototyping resources to attract, motivate, and develop campus makers. MakerWorks hopes to strengthen hands-on learning within the MIT community and act as a spearhead for like efforts around the MIT campus by making the tools, knowledge, and motivation available to students on their schedules. The facility will be managed by MechE students, who will also act as mentors for the MechE community. The Department of Mechanical Engineering opened MakerWorks in partnership with a complementary space, ProtoWorks, in the MIT Martin Trust Center. This partnership creates a synergy among the two spaces, enabling a valuable integration of engineering and entrepreneurship for students of both groups. We are grateful for the support we received in opening MakerWorks from the Richard A. Lufkin Memorial Fund, the Martin Trust Center, and the MIT School of Engineering.

Two MechE Students Win at MIT IDEAS Global Challenge


Winners of this year’s MIT IDEAS Global Challenge. Photo by John Kennard

Graduate student Prithiviraj Sundararaman was part of the Navi-Chem team that won one of two $10,000 grand prizes at this year’s MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, a competition that aims “to bring novel technologies and new educational models to the developing world.” Navi-Chem won for its novel process of using reactors to convert solid waste into polylactic acid that can be used to make valuable products such as biodegradable cups and medical implants. Graduate student Anshul Singhal, along with his colleagues at Squirrel Devices, a company Singhal co-founded to create simple and effective assistive technology to enable persons with blindness to access STEM subjects, won one of three $5,000 awards. The company is developing a framework to connect assistive technology devices with dedicated output devices over wireless networks to fit users’ needs.