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SCOPE 2018

Student-engineers tackle the big problems

On May 15, 14 SCOPE teams presented the results of their yearlong consulting projects to an audience of more than 200 industry leaders and members of the Olin community. 

The Senior Consulting Program in Engineering (SCOPE) is the culmination of the project-based curriculum at Olin College of Engineering. Corporations, foundations and governmental agencies sign on to sponsor teams of engineering students in their senior year for a yearlong consulting project to tackle a challenge supplied by the sponsors themselves.

The results, presented at the SCOPE Summit on May 15, show engineering students offering fresh solutions that, depending on sponsor goals, can boost the bottom line, increase organizational effectiveness or deliver solutions for big societal issues.

“Having differently trained, smart young engineers look at a problem from a new perspective and offer unexpected solutions can offer big benefits to our sponsors,” noted Alisha Sarang-Sieminski, director of SCOPE.

The 14 SCOPE teams presented “rocket talks” of the results of their projects on the morning of the SCOPE Summit, followed by poster presentations in the afternoon.

The Amazon Robotics Team worked to advance the capabilities of robots, as the company looks to expand its fulfillment centers. The Rockwell International team examined how to improve human/robot collaboration, a growing issue as people and robots work more closely together.

Another team, working with the aircraft manufacturer Boeing, made recommendations for increasing the efficiency of complex wiring bundles so they could fit more easily into a plane’s wiring systems. A team working with Fidelity Labs examined innovative ways to manage digital assets such as cryptocurrencies, while a Boston Scientific team looked into improving a complicated gastrointestinal procedure.

The Mitsubishi Electric team worked at the intersection of food, aging and technology. Building on work done by a SCOPE team last year, the 2018 team did extensive interviewing with older adults. A key issue they identified was helping older adults maintain a sense of meaning and community as they move into retirement — an experience becoming more common as many baby boomers reach retirement age.

To deal with this problem, the team developed a prototype, called CoCo, for Cooking Collaboratively, than enables different generations to share the experience of preparing food via an Internet-connected interface. The team brought their prototype to the SXSW Trade Show in Austin, Texas, where they were able to gain feedback from hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds.

Standing next to a poster about CoCo alongside other SCOPE displays set up under a large tent set up in Olin’s central “Oval,” senior Maggie Jakus said what she got out of the experience was a lot of additional practice in design, plus a chance to exercise some of the softer skills essential to project success.

“It took a lot of people skills, working with a liaison who lives in Japan and speaks primarily Japanese, has a different background and assumptions and expectations for something like this, so it was really interesting to learn how to communicate better, how to work though those barriers,” said Jakus.

The SCOPE team working with the Santos Family Foundation and the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center explored ways to identify and characterize blind spots around large trucks to increase the safety of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists.

The team explored some high tech methods to find blind spots around big trucks, before hitting on a very effective-low tech solution — using a marked pole to take measurements of what range of vision a driver could see around the truck. By placing the pole a set distance from a truck, and taking measurements and photos, the team was able to calculate the percentage of the area around the truck that the driver could see with “direct vision,” that is, views not aided by mirrors or cameras, which can slow down reaction time. 

Compiling these calculations could lead eventually to a database offering comparative data on truck visibility. 

“It’s something that I think is a direct benefit for people who are contemplating regulation, or buying fleets of vehicles, in this case big trucks, for urban areas,” said Paul Santos, a director of the Santos Family Foundation. “It also meets the foundation’s goals in that it’s going to assist in vehicular safety.”

Although the team working with the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI) targeted a narrow group — hydrologists, or scientists who study water — their work has big implications for information sharing about water quality.

The team focused its efforts on a web-based data-sharing tool for hydrologists called Hydroshare that is funded by CUAHSI. Being able to share data easily is essential for collaboration and research. The problem is, Hydroshare is not easy to use.

Through extensive user-based research, including codesign, testing and prototyping, the team recommended improvements to the user experience, such as creating a dashboard that allowed users to access multiple functionalities from a single location.

Team member Celina Bekins says CUAHSI is eager to begin implementing the team’s recommendations.

“Because we also gave them our process and taught them how to do this work themselves, they are working on publishing this as a technical paper, and making sure that they can do the same work again and again and continue to improve on the site.”