Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Treadle Pump Developed by Michigan Engineering Students

Last year a farmer in a mountain hamlet near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, carried buckets of water two miles to irrigate his fields, which lay on a hilly landscape, high above the nearest water source. A diesel pump burned too much fuel -- the expense was too much for the farmer to handle -- and the noise was less than desirable. But a team of Michigan Engineering students made things right in his world – today he’s walking in place on a treadle pump, a contraption that resembles a StairMaster but pumps water into his field. It costs no more than his own time and energy.

Michigan Engineering students designed the first pump in 2008, built a prototype in their workshop, then wrote highly detailed, easy-to-read documentation. They traveled to Guatemala and built the first-generation machine. Now they’re at work on a redesign to improve flaws that came to light during the operation of the device in Guatemala.

When the team came back to Ann Arbor from Guatemala, they put their documentation online so that people could download it at no cost – within three days, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa had begun to download the materials; to date, there have been hundreds of downloads...



around the world. The team allows those who download the documentation to manufacture and sell the treadle pump to people who don’t have the facilities, skill or inclination to build their own devices. In Bangladesh, entrepreneurial types with manufacturing facilities have sold 1.4 million treadle pumps for $20 each.

The project started when Ann Arbor non-profit Appropriate Technology Collaborative (ATC) challenged Michigan Engineering BLUELab students to design a treadle pump using only materials that were native to Tanzania or another mostly rural African or Southeast Asian country. The students also had to document the design so that individuals and NGOs could easily read the drawings and build their own devices.

The BLUELab team chose to introduce its work in Guatemala, where farmers are poor, resources are limited and the water table makes irrigation difficult. When the team arrived, it found that wood was more expensive that steel, which required on-the-fly redesign. Realizing how wet the climate is, they came up with a unique twist, building pistons with leather exteriors so that, when soaked with water, they’d swell and create a tighter seal in the cylinders.

The treadle pump project shows the power of an idea in the hands of motivated engineers – they can improve the lives of people they’ll never meet or know about, in places they might never travel. How noble is that?

Learn about BLUELab at http://bluelab.engin.umich.edu/node/13. Find out more about the treadle-pump project at http://bluelab.engin.umich.edu/node/9.

Treadle Pump Developed by Michigan Engineering Students

Last year a farmer in a mountain hamlet near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, carried buckets of water two miles to irrigate his fields, which lay on a hilly landscape, high above the nearest water source. A diesel pump burned too much fuel -- the expense was too much for the farmer to handle -- and the noise was less than desirable. But a team of Michigan Engineering students made things right in his world – today he’s walking in place on a treadle pump, a contraption that resembles a StairMaster but pumps water into his field. It costs no more than his own time and energy.

Michigan Engineering students designed the first pump in 2008, built a prototype in their workshop, then wrote highly detailed, easy-to-read documentation. They traveled to Guatemala and built the first-generation machine. Now they’re at work on a redesign to improve flaws that came to light during the operation of the device in Guatemala.

When the team came back to Ann Arbor from Guatemala, they put their documentation online so that people could download it at no cost – within three days, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Africa had begun to download the materials; to date, there have been hundreds of downloads...



around the world. The team allows those who download the documentation to manufacture and sell the treadle pump to people who don’t have the facilities, skill or inclination to build their own devices. In Bangladesh, entrepreneurial types with manufacturing facilities have sold 1.4 million treadle pumps for $20 each.

The project started when Ann Arbor non-profit Appropriate Technology Collaborative (ATC) challenged Michigan Engineering BLUELab students to design a treadle pump using only materials that were native to Tanzania or another mostly rural African or Southeast Asian country. The students also had to document the design so that individuals and NGOs could easily read the drawings and build their own devices.

The BLUELab team chose to introduce its work in Guatemala, where farmers are poor, resources are limited and the water table makes irrigation difficult. When the team arrived, it found that wood was more expensive that steel, which required on-the-fly redesign. Realizing how wet the climate is, they came up with a unique twist, building pistons with leather exteriors so that, when soaked with water, they’d swell and create a tighter seal in the cylinders.

The treadle pump project shows the power of an idea in the hands of motivated engineers – they can improve the lives of people they’ll never meet or know about, in places they might never travel. How noble is that?

Learn about BLUELab at http://bluelab.engin.umich.edu/node/13. Find out more about the treadle-pump project at http://bluelab.engin.umich.edu/node/9.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Michigan Engineering Students Develop Mobile Communications Technology for Cerebral Palsy Patients

A young woman with cerebral palsy walks into a Starbucks and, despite her compromised motor skills and speech difficulties, uses an iPad to do what she’s never done before – she orders a cup of coffee by herself. That’s a scene that a multidisciplinary team at the University of Michigan hopes to see in the very near future when it completes work on a special app for mobile devices.

In looking for a project to tackle as part of a software-engineering class, a team of computer science and engineering students posed the question: What can we do to help people whose impaired motor movements make it difficult to manipulate touch-sensitive screens or press the small buttons on mobile keyboards? Customized systems on home computers make it possible for these people to use email and instant messaging, but those input systems don’t transfer well to mobile devices.

To solve the problem the students expanded the team, bringing in rehabilitation engineers from the University’s C.S. Mott Hospital. Pooling talents has proved to be invaluable in creating an app that will convert the entire screen of an iPad or smart phone into one large button that’s easy to use. A “scanning interface” will highlight each letter, button or link on the screen, one at a time. As the system highlights the desired item, the user simply touches anywhere on the screen to make the selection.

For those whose compromised motor skills make it hard to do what most people take for granted, the device will be a life-changer.



On Feb. 14, 2011, the mobile app for people with Cerebral Palsy placed second in the University Mobile Challenge at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The app is also a featured part of the Product Design Show, an informational series of videos on ENGINEERING.com.

You can also watch this video on YouTube.

Michigan Engineering Students Develop Mobile Communications Technology for Cerebral Palsy Patients

A young woman with cerebral palsy walks into a Starbucks and, despite her compromised motor skills and speech difficulties, uses an iPad to do what she’s never done before – she orders a cup of coffee by herself. That’s a scene that a multidisciplinary team at the University of Michigan hopes to see in the very near future when it completes work on a special app for mobile devices.

In looking for a project to tackle as part of a software-engineering class, a team of computer science and engineering students posed the question: What can we do to help people whose impaired motor movements make it difficult to manipulate touch-sensitive screens or press the small buttons on mobile keyboards? Customized systems on home computers make it possible for these people to use email and instant messaging, but those input systems don’t transfer well to mobile devices.

To solve the problem the students expanded the team, bringing in rehabilitation engineers from the University’s C.S. Mott Hospital. Pooling talents has proved to be invaluable in creating an app that will convert the entire screen of an iPad or smart phone into one large button that’s easy to use. A “scanning interface” will highlight each letter, button or link on the screen, one at a time. As the system highlights the desired item, the user simply touches anywhere on the screen to make the selection.

For those whose compromised motor skills make it hard to do what most people take for granted, the device will be a life-changer.



On Feb. 14, 2011, the mobile app for people with Cerebral Palsy placed second in the University Mobile Challenge at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The app is also a featured part of the Product Design Show, an informational series of videos on ENGINEERING.com.

You can also watch this video on YouTube.