Engineering students debut inventions

By Ryan Cornell

FRONT ROYAL — After a semester spent researching, designing and testing their inventions, students in the Engineering Design and Development class at Blue Ridge Technical Center presented their prototypes at the third annual Project Lead The Way engineering showcase.

Parents, teachers and two professional engineers who judged the four projects attended the showcase at the school on Thursday night.

Inspired by the pull-out trays in packs of Chips Ahoy and Oreos that make their cookies accessible, Garrett Maddox and Brandon Ketola set out to solve the problem snackers face of reaching into Pringles cans and not being able to reach chips near the bottom.

“We wanted to keep it simplistic as possible for design purposes,” Maddox said. “We had a lot of other possible solutions, but a lot of them were too complex.”

The two designed a halfpipe-shaped tray out of aluminum flashing that could store the chips and be pulled out of the can.

Maddox said they contacted Kellogg, who owns Pringles, with their idea. The company told them that the can was designed for the chips to be poured out. However, a majority of the Pringles consumers the two surveyed in a focus group said they reached into the can instead.

Less pain at the pump
Originally, Will Richards set out to develop an alarm clock that spritzed the sleeper with water to wake up. When he realized it had already been invented and patented, he looked elsewhere — specifically, the faculty parking lot.

There, Richards found his teacher’s pickup truck, a 1985 Dodge Ram Prospector earning between 8 and 11 mpg. He quickly went to work designing a product that would make the truck more aerodynamic and increase its gas mileage.

“Trucks are unaerodynamic,” said Richards. “The windshield is an almost 90-degree angle, the flat front face, the tailgate creates drag, the 80’s style mirrors are also unaerodynamic.”

He made a 3D virtual model of the truck and used software to simulate the forces of drag. He said he traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to Tino Belli, an engineer for Mario Andretti, and learned about how to better design his prototype.

Using 1-inch foam, Richards built a wedge-shaped fastback bed cover that not only cut the drag experienced by his teacher’s truck in half, but also increased its mileage to between 12 and 15 mpg, a nearly 30-percent increase.

Beats by Nick
To fix the common problem audiophiles have of their headphones breaking, Nickolas Bourgoin decided to design a pair with interchangeable parts. If the wires in the cord frayed, he could replace it. If the drivers in the speakers gave out, he could swap them for new ones without splurging for a brand new set.

Bourgoin said he surveyed groups of people and learned that headphones were near the top of the list when it came to items that they frequently purchased.

It would be nice if you could replace only the part that broke, he thought.

He bought a pair of over-the-ear headphones and took them apart, dividing them into three segments: the jack, the cord and the speakers. He said anybody with the headphones could find the replacement parts easily and at a cheap price.

“I was tired of buying $30, $40 headphones and having them break after a couple months and replacing the whole thing,” said Bourgoin. “With cars you can get them repaired, so why not do the same with headphones?”

Quieter cleaning
A vacuum covered in egg cartons sits on a table between Liam Massey and Shivam Mehta as they explain their mission to develop a quieter vacuum cleaner.

“Vacuum cleaners are not only loud and annoying, but they can also damage your hearing,” Massey said.

His partner said the noise produced by some vacuums could reach up to 90 decibels.

The two surveyed 99 people, 96 of whom said they wanted a quieter vacuum and two others who said they suffered from damaged hearing.

By wrapping foam around the vacuum’s motor, they were able to decrease the noise. By attaching egg cartons, which they said resembles anechoic chambers, they were able to make the vacuum even quieter. The two said the prototype was able to cause a 30-percent reduction in the total decibels produced by the vacuum.

Tom Breed has taught the engineering class at Blue Ridge Technical Center for the past two years. He said the projects serve as a capstone for the students enrolled in the four-year program.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com