Students present at the World Usability Day forum in Fondren Library's Kyle Morrow Room.
World Usability Day at Rice University Thursday afternoon provided an opportunity to highlight Rice undergraduates’ remarkable design ingenuity and resourcefulness as they learn to create equipment and devices that serve important functions and audiences around the world.
Usually the second Thursday in November, World Usability Day promotes the values of usability, usability engineering and user-centered design.
Vice Provost and University Librarian Sara Lowman welcomed attendees to the forum, “Designing Technology Around the World,” in Fondren Library’s Kyle Morrow Room.
Emcee and Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby recounted his firsthand experience with the importance of usability. He served in the U.S. Army research laboratory earlier in his career. “Usability for the Army is a matter of life and death; it’s not a matter of convenience,” he said. For Kirby, this included an experience testing equipment at the Army’s Cold Regions Test Center in Bolio Lake, Alaska, in temperatures below 60 degrees and realizing the clothing being worn by soldiers was too bulky to use the equipment.
Maria Oden, professor in the practice of engineering education and director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, said engineering students at Rice are learning the importance of designing toward usability from the get-go in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. The OEDK is a unique engineering design facility for undergraduates. “We really liked the concept of a kitchen where you put together disparate things in a recipe and you create something that’s even better than the parts,” Oden said. “I see that happening at the kitchen all the time. It’s not just about the parts. It’s not about the equipment. It’s about the learning that students do. It’s about the teamwork that they do and working with real clients that have real needs, and our students are needing to learn and understand what those needs are.”
Oden cited the example of a low-cost, Rice student-designed device that helps newborns in respiratory distress in Malawi in southern Africa. Bubble continuous positive airway pressure (bCPAP) undefined devices are commonly used in the developed world to treat infants whose respiratory systems are underdeveloped or compromised by infection. However, at $6,000 each, the devices are often too expensive for hospitals in the developing world. The bCPAP device was developed in the design kitchen by seniors as their engineering design capstone project in 2010. Working in collaboration with the Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies, Rice’s bCPAP can be built for $160 and delivers the same therapeutic pressure as devices in hospitals in the developed world.
Students in Ann Saterbak’s Engineering 120 class are showing similar ingenuity. Saterbak is a professor in the practice of bioengineering education and the Department of Bioengineering’s associate chair for undergraduate affairs. Her Engineering 120 course requires first-year students to use the engineering design process to solve real community and global problems. Students are divided into teams that evaluate design requirements and create solutions in the design kitchen, and more senior students mentor students in design, leadership and communication.
Engineering 120 student projects showcased at the forum included a special robotic arm aid for reaching. The Robotic Assisted Reaching Mechanism (R-Arm) is helping a young patient at Shriners Hospital for Children who is suffering brittle bone disease, a genetic disease that prevents the proper formation of bones and causes them to be weak and break and that also limits growth. The R-ARM helps the patient conduct the simplest daily tasks. Another Engineering 120 project is helping a Shriners Hospital patient suffering from arthrogryposis, a condition causing underdeveloped muscles and stiff joints. Called the Shirtmate, the low-cost contraption allows a moderately able patient to put on a T-shirt without much movement and exertion.
Austin Govella, a design manager with business technology services company Avanade, also spoke at the event, which was sponsored by the Fondren Library Accessibility Committee and Rice University Disability Support Services. For more information about World Usability Day, visit www.worldusabilityday.org.
Rice University will mark World Usability Day Nov. 15 with a forum featuring a range of Rice experts discussing “Designing Technology Around the World.”
World Usability Day promotes the values of usability, usability engineering and user-centered design.
The event, which promotes the values of usability, usability engineering and user-centered design, will be from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in Fondren Library’s Kyle Morrow Room. Speakers are Kevin Kirby, vice president for administration; Maria Oden, professor in the practice of engineering education and director of the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen; Ann Saterbak, a professor in the practice of bioengineering education and the Department of Bioengineering’s associate chair for undergraduate affairs; and Austin Govella, a design manager with business technology services company Avanade. Several Rice student projects will be highlighted.
This event is sponsored by the Fondren Library Accessibility Committee and Rice University Disability Support Services. For more information about World Usability Day, visit www.worldusabilityday.org.
Academy report is twice as nice for Rice engineering
National Academy of Engineering highlights Beyond Traditional Borders, NanoJapan in report on exemplary programs
HOUSTON – (Nov. 15, 2012) – Rice University engineering initiatives are prominently featured in a report issued this week by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).
The publication, "Infusing Real World Experiences into Engineering Education," features case studies on Rice's Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) program and the NanoJapan: International Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Among the 28 colleges and universities in the report, only Rice is featured twice.
"The inclusion of two Rice programs, BTB and NanoJapan, in this important NAE report is no surprise, given that Rice engineering is all about exposing our students to experiences that push them well beyond their comfort zones and urge them to journey into places far from Houston, leading to great professional development and maturity across a variety of engineering disciplines," said Ned Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.
The report (available as a free download here) spotlights schools that incorporate real-world experiences into their curricula and highlights best practices for institutions seeking to create new programs, according to the NAE.
Each case study compares anticipated versus actual program outcomes to demonstrate how well the programs prepare their engineering students.
Beyond Traditional Borders, part of the Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies, trains students to use the engineering design process to develop solutions to global health challenges provided by physicians in the developing world. Students work on their inventions at Rice's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and often develop them further using feedback they gather from physicians during internships in developing nations.
NanoJapan is a 12-week international research experience that prepares undergraduate students to work in cross-cultural settings in Japan. The program seeks to cultivate an interest in nanotechnology among first- and second-year students while adding to their research skill sets and simultaneously educating them in culture, language and nanoscale science. The program was founded in 2006; since then, more than 106 American students from 37 institutions, including three community colleges, have participated. While the program traditionally takes place in Japan, in the wake of 2011's devastating earthquake, 25 Japanese students from partner labs in Japan came to Rice for three months of study.
"The report amply demonstrates Rice leadership in translating fundamental science and engineering into high-impact practice," Rice Provost George McLendon said. "We are extraordinarily proud of the many ways in which Rice engineers make the world better."
"This nation’s prosperity, security and quality of life are direct results of leadership in the engineering achievements that drive society forward," said NAE President Charles Vest. "These programs are strategically preparing students to become the engineers who will tackle the technical and social complexities that lie ahead in the 21st century."
The NAE is one of four organizations that make up the National Academies, along with the National Academy of Sciences (created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863), the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter.
For starters, here are three things you probably don’t know about the latest Mars rover, the car-sized rover that landed on the red planet in August:
One person’s signature flew with Curiosity: that of the schoolgirl who named it, Clara Ma.
For all its advanced science, the rover has less computer power than a typical smartphone.
The patterns on its wheels spell out “JPL” (for Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in Morse code.
If you were at the talk by two members of the rover team at Rice University’s Duncan Hall Nov. 1, you’d already know all that. Ravi Prakash, descent and landing engineer at NASA’s JPL in Pasadena, Calif., and Bobak Ferdowsi, the mission’s activity lead and flight director, were the final speakers this semester in the Space Frontiers Lecture Series sponsored by the Rice Space Institute (RSI) and the Wiess School of Natural Sciences.
The talk capped a full day at Rice that saw them participate in a lunchtime panel hosted by RSI executive director and astronaut Mike Massimino, taking in a robotics competition at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen with robotics scientist James McLurkin and meeting with engineering leadership students.
The speakers relived the rover’s thrilling descent over what NASA billed as “Seven Minutes of Terror,” a reference to the complex landing that allowed the vehicle to touch down gently on its wheels. Their opening video montage mixed animation, actual footage of the landing and the cheers of crowds at JPL mission control and at NASA sites all over the country, which stayed open until the wee hours for the touchdown.
After that, it was down to details as they talked through the process of dropping a ton of technology onto another planet, and what they hope to achieve. “Every single part has a story,” Prakash said.
Other things those in the packed McMurtry Auditorium learned:
The capsule that brought Curiosity to Mars was bigger than an Apollo capsule that carried three astronauts to the moon.
Bobak Ferdowsi, left, and Ravi Prakash of the Mars lander team talk with students at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen on Nov. 1. Photo by Jeff Fitlow
There are six miles of cable inside the rover. The plastic coating on the cable – in fact, anything plastic on Curiosity – had to be baked in a vacuum to eliminate outgassing elements that could have smeared the optics. “When you smell that new-car smell, that’s actually outgassing. That’s the vinyl and leather and everything that has a small amount of material wafting away,” Ferdowsi said.
When Ferdowsi joined the Curiosity team, it had around 30 members. At the project’s peak, he said, about 7,000 were involved in every aspect of the mission. “It took 5,000 man years to get this done. That puts it in perspective,” he said.
Curiosity entered Mars’ atmosphere going 13,500 miles per hour. On the surface, the rover travels at the breakneck speed of 1.7 inches per second. “Why do we go that slow? Because it’s so far away,” Prakish said. “We can’t send triple-A to get a tow.”
Rocks that were kicked up onto the rover’s top deck surprised everyone on the team – almost. Engineers were wise enough to put dust covers over most of the sensitive equipment, which limited damage from landing to one of two weather instruments (and minor at that).
The filmmakers who created the film “Wall-E” visited the team to learn how rovers move.
A Lincoln penny rode with Curiosity as a tribute to the field geologists who would be getting so much data back. “Geologists often carry a unit of currency with them so they can take images and have a reference,” Ferdowsi said.
The rover’s plutonium power plant puts out about 120 watts of electricity a day, about enough to run a couple of light bulbs. The mission is scheduled for two years, but both scientists suspect Curiosity will still be on the job a decade from now.
Curiosity will never rust, as there are only trace amounts of oxygen on Mars.
Prakish helped engineer the risky landing that saw Curiosity first slowed by a parachute to 1,000 miles per hour and then brought to the surface by a rocket-powered module that gently lowered the rover on tethers before flying away to crash.
Ferdowsi, still sporting the trademark Mohawk that made him an instant Internet meme on the night of the landing, went from work on the transit team during the journey to Mars to his current duties as part of the roving team, which puts Curiosity through its day-to-day paces.
Both look forward to the day when humans are sent to Mars. “One of the things to consider in manned versus robotics: We’ve spent all of three months on Mars and accomplished, basically, what a geologist could accomplish before lunchtime,” Ferdowsi said.
Learn much more about Curiosity by watching the Rice lecture via the webcast to be posted soon by RSI.
It was like “Thunder Mountain times 1,000.” That was Ned Thomas’s description of flying with a member of the Blue Angels this week at Houston’s Ellington Field, where the Navy flight demonstration team is preparing for this weekend’s annual Wings Over Houston Air Show. Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering,was one of a select few invited to ride a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet Oct. 24 in the run-up to this week’s performances.
Thomas boasted of experiencing 6.8 times the force of gravity “and didn’t black out,” he said. The flight was “fast undefined really, really fast.”
Thomas in pre-flight mode before this week's demonstration flight on one of the Blue Angels' F/A-18 Hornets.
Apnea is common in premature infants, who often lack the neurological development to breathe correctly on their own. Monitors used in hospitals the United States are power-intensive and extraordinarily expensive, leaving primary health care centers in the developing world relying on nurses to keep vigil. Our Babalung Apnea Monitor detects apneic episodes in premature infants for under $35, treats the infants as soon as apnea is detected, and alerts health care workers to emergency situations.
A team of Rice University alumni has won Texas Instruments’ fifth annual Analog Design Contest. Team mobileVision took the $10,000 Engibous Prize this week for its invention of a device that allows untrained individuals to take snapshots of a retina outside of a clinical environment for remote diagnosis.
The mobileVision senior capstone design team won the Engibous Prize in a competition sponsored by Texas Instruments this week. Members, from left, are: front, George Chen and Minhee Park; rear, Kevin Beale, Richard Lattimer and Adam Samaniego. Photo by Doni Howard
The smartphone-based screening device allows people in undeveloped countries to be diagnosed for vision problems and such ocular diseases as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Ophthalmologists can then view the images and diagnose patients from afar.
Team members are Richard Latimer, Adam Samaniego, Kevin Beale, George Chen and Minhee Park, all of whom graduated from Rice in May. Latimer and Samaniego will continue their work on the project as Rice graduate students. Team advisers are Ashutosh Sabharwal, a professor, and Ashok Veeraraghavan, an assistant professor, both of electrical and computer engineering.
“The team demonstrated unique leadership and creative problem-solving skills necessary to address an important health care challenge worldwide,” Sabharwal said. “As part of the Scalable Health Initiative at Rice, mobileVision is a crucial step forward to realizing inexpensive and portable vision screening for a large number of vision disorders. We are continuing our work on mobileVision to bring it to the field in the near future.”
Rice University graduate students Richard Latimer, left, and Adam Samaniego, second from left, accept the Engibous Prize in Dallas this week. With them are Texas Instruments employees, from third left, Brian Crutcher, Kausalya Palavesam, Gene Frantz and Hagop Kozanian. Photo courtesy Texas Instruments
Nearly 500 participants from 40 accredited engineering schools entered the contest, which is named for former TI Chairman Thomas Engibous. Finalists representing a dozen universities presented their projects to a panel of judges July 30 at Texas Instruments’ headquarters in Dallas.
The team, which built its device as its senior capstone design project at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, also won the Texas Instruments Award for Engineering Design at this year’s Brown School of Engineering Design Showcase and Poster Competition.
Second and third place went to teams from Oregon State University and the University of Toronto, respectively. The People’s Choice award went to the University of Central Florida.
Rice’s Electric Owl design team won last year’s Engibous Prize for unmanned aerial vehicle to explore Mars.
Also present for the meeting were Vice Provost for Research Vicki Colvin, Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship Managing Director Brad Burke, Rice Center for Engineering Leadership Director Mark Embree and Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane.
Pictured: From left, Danielle Evers, the council’s associate director; Graves; Kinder Institute for Urban Research Co-Director Stephen Klineberg; and Leebron listen as engineering student Jade Juzswik demonstrates her summer design team’s low-cost pediatric goniometer, which is used by physical therapists to measure joint angles. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)
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