• Professor Woodie Flowers of mechanical engineering helps senior John Rebula work on part of a manioc grater, designed to grate large quantities of manioc or kasava for food in Haiti. The project is for 2.009, whose final presentations are Monday, Dec. 12.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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2.009 students sprout ideas for agriculture


An agricultural theme unites the six alpha prototypes that will be presented at this year's final session of Course 2.009, Product Engineering Processes, to be held on Monday, Dec. 12, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in Room 34-101.

The course opened in September with a challenge to students to diversify the product offerings of a successful firm that designs and manufactures agricultural equipment, with a view to sales and sustainability in both developed and developing countries.

The product prototypes to be presented on Monday are: a banana harvester that mechanically lowers the fruit from the tree; a lentil sorter; a root chopper; a manioc grater; a tree mover; and a water pump.

Each was envisioned and engineered by a team of 15 students, most of them seniors in mechanical engineering.

"The goal of the course is to provide experience with the whole process of coming up with ideas, deciding in a team what makes sense to work on and why, thinking about a societal context, and designing and building ambitious product prototypes," said David Wallace, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who has led the 2.009 course since 1996.

Many teams test their 2.009 prototypes in the field -- the banana harvester was tested in Puerto Rico this year -- and some 2.009 designs have been developed as products, Wallace said. For example, Kinkajou, a portable microfilm projector developed for 2.009 in 2002, has been used in Mali in a night school for women.

Product design is a process of continually refining ideas and processes, scrapping ones that don't work and engaging as teams in developing designs that respond to particular, real-world needs, Wallace said.

Meghna Trivedi, senior in mechanical engineering, used "Tree-Tran," the orange team's tree mover, as an illustration. "Tree-Tran" looks like a boat-trailer with a mast and a harness that could hold a big fish or a small tree; it's designed with a local nonprofit urban forestry group in mind.

Urban forestry volunteers plant trees as a public service. "We wanted our product to make it easy for them," Trivedi said.

With just days to go before the 2.009 final presentations, Trivedi said the product still needed tweaking. "But we did move two cherry trees -- 200 and 300 pounds -- right outside. That's the fun part -- when it works!"

The annual 2.009 presentation is a fast-moving and festive event, providing each team with a 10-minute slot in which to display merits of its design, plus explain how it could be realized as a product.

2.009 course sponsors include The Lemelson Foundation, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, United Technologies and Shell.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 7, 2005 (download PDF).


Topics: Business and management, Mechanical engineering, Education, teaching, academics, Global

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