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.
Optimized Pneumatic System for Wearable Actuator
Cameron Maltman, S.B. ’20, mechanical engineering
The Harvard Biodesign Lab is developing soft, wearable, under-arm actuators that are designed to help improve movement for patients who are recovering from strokes as well as people whose work requires them to lift their arms above their heads. Maltman set out to optimize, design, build, and verify a pneumatic system that would fill the under-arm support balloons quickly, quietly, and with the appropriate pressure, while also optimizing for weight and power use. After developing a model to characterize pneumatic parameters, he built an experimental setup to test commercial pumps and the completed pneumatic system. Drawing on those experiments, Maltman designed a fully optimized system using pumps, batteries, an accumulator, electronic valves, and tubing. The biggest challenges he faced throughout the project were integrating numerous components and then verifying them, as well as tweaking model predictions to make them more applicable to real-world problems.
“I learned so much from this project, but mainly that patience and persistence are key to a long project like this,” he said. “You need to be patient with yourself and the devices you are building to ensure they are built correctly, and you also need to be persistent to see the project through and meet design goals.”
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