Engineering Design Projects (ES 100), the capstone course at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, challenges seniors to engineer a creative solution to a real-world problem.
Soft EPMs: Design and Fabrication of Soft Composite Materials for Soft Electromagnetic Actuators
Billy Koech, S.B. ’20, electrical engineering
Electromagnetic actuators are gaining momentum for use in soft robotic systems due to their small design footprints and reduced energy usage. Koech focused on characterizing and fabricating soft magnetic and ferromagnetic materials that enable the production of soft electromagnetic actuators. Through the design and fabrication process, Koech strove to ensure the soft materials were designed to hold the same electromagnetic properties of rigid actuators, while allowing increased flexibility that would enable a soft robot to adapt to irregular surfaces. One of the biggest challenges he faced was collecting data on the materials; he fabricated and tested more than 100 samples throughout the project. Since each sample had to be cured using an oven, Koech spent many long nights in the lab waiting for his samples to be ready for testing.
“This project made me revisit the fundamentals of electrical engineering, particularly magnetism, and enabled me to hone my understanding of the guiding principles as well as the conventional methods for quantifying and qualifying magnetic properties and materials,” he said. “I also learned to be patient and resilient, especially when my samples failed or when I made an error and had to redo the fabrication from the start. But I also saw myself grow as an engineer, and the precision of my fabrication techniques improved in accuracy whenever I fabricated a new sample.”
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