The car, standing about a foot tall, relied on a camera and software programmed by students to zip along a racetrack without human intervention. The car completed the course in 17.7 seconds, faster than 27 other teams at the annual Freescale Cup in Rochester, N.Y. on April 19. The team now heads to South Korea in August to compete against 19 teams from around the globe.
“It’s amazing,” team member Geoffrey Mcelroy, of Lincoln, R.I., said. “I was so excited when we won. I can’t believe I’m going to Korea. It is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”
Mcelroy will be joined by teammates Cory Jalbert of Coventry, R.I., and David Cipoletta of Chepachet, R.I. The three were classmates in a senior computer engineering course taught by computer engineering Professor Qing Yang. The professor offered students a choice for grading: take a series of traditional exams or design a robotic car and take one exam. Six students opted for the later, fielding two teams that competed in Rochester.
“This is a good opportunity to inspire students to do real design,” Yang said. “The best way to learn is by doing something.”
The students programmed a 32-bit microprocessor to interface with the camera, motor, battery, wheels and sensors. They added intelligence by creating algorithms that learned from previous mistakes and kept the car on the curving and hilly 100-foot track.
“Even if the track had been constantly changing, the car would have been able to adapt and handle it,” said Jalbert, who served as the team captain.
The students also learned from last year’s team that placed second. They worked long hours to ensure this year’s intelligent car was faster than last year’s car, which clocked in at 19.5 seconds on a test track. When trial runs came in faster, the team pushed for even faster speeds, at one point working more than 16 hours straight to finalize the design.
The teammates will continue to tweak this year’s car ahead of the world championships even as two of them graduate. Fittingly, both are pursuing careers in the automation industry. Jalbert has accepted a software engineering position at Vecna Technologies in Massachusetts with hopes of moving to its competitive robotics division. Cipoletta, currently working part time at Eagle Electric in Rhode Island, is weighing two offers, both from engineering companies involved with automation and machine intelligence. And it’s very possible the students may find themselves designing the next autonomous vehicle.
“This was essentially a kit version of the future car or robot that can drive itself,” Cipoletta said. “We learned a lot.”]]>
“Everything is what you make of it,” Calderón says. “That’s the gift I received from my mother: the importance of preparing for the future.”
He is inspired by his late mother, Silvia Franco, who left her home in Guatemala seeking a better life in Providence. She died of breast cancer in May 2013.
“It was my mother who was a pioneer. She didn’t want to be limited. She was very independent,” Calderón says. His twin brother Michael is a Rhode Island College junior studying nuclear medicine technology. His father Lionel died accidentally in 2008.
“I have been challenged more than I expected by both my field of study, engineering, and the hardships in my life; one of which includes the loss of my parents. I have been faced with tremendous difficulties, and have used these difficulties to improve myself; in both character and management,” Calderón said this fall in a speech thanking scholarship donors.
The 2010 valedictorian from Central High School was selected by URI for its Talent Development program, which provides economically disadvantaged students with a rigorous pre-college summer program followed by consistent academic advising.
“Chris took on the challenge of advancing his opportunity for higher education in the Talent Development program with sheer will, dedication, hard work and discipline,” said his TD advisor Gerald R. Williams. “He entered the TD program with focus and determination. I am very proud of him and all that he has accomplished. This young man clearly understands the importance of how attaining a college degree will and has opened doors for him that he could have only imagined and will soon realize.”
Calderón says the TD advisors “do care, and they celebrate your achievements. They provide opportunities for growth. They’re always pushing you to excel.”
Calderón recalls feeling upset about “bombing” his first chemistry test. “I know you’re a great student. You can do this. You just need to evaluate your approach,” Calderón remembers Williams telling him.
Pulling out his smartphone, Calderón reads a text message from a TD counselor that reads, “Hey, you should look into this leadership workshop.”
Calderón demonstrated leadership as the URI chapter treasurer of the national civil engineering honor society Chi Epsilon, and the president of the URI chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. As a 2013 summer intern with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, he gained experience working on the relocation of Interstate 95.
Prior to URI, Calderón was active in and received long-term guidance from mentors at two organizations aimed at academic success for low-income Providence public school students: The College Crusade of Rhode Island and Inspiring Minds.
Calderón says his personal drive motivates him to follow his dreams and goals: “I’ve got to do the right thing. I need to get it done as best I possibly can.”]]>
“I like to tell people that I don’t want to make the motor of a car, I want to make the seats,” said Powers, a Cumberland native. “I think it’s more interesting to make something that has to account for the human; it’s more interesting to design something that is really focused on the user. When the average person uses a product, how easy is it for them to understand what’s going on? Do they have to read the manual or can they just do it?”
Powers carried that user-focused perspective throughout his URI career, especially in his German language education. The recipient of the University Award for Excellence in German, he quickly developed proficiency in speaking German and eventually became a German tutor and chaperoned a student trip to Germany with two URI professors.
“I took German 101 and after one semester I could speak more than after four years of French in high school,” Powers said. “It just seemed to click.”
He spent a year in Germany as part of the URI International Engineering Program, studying at the Technical University at Braunschweig and interning at rail company Deutsche Bahn. And while he was there, he enrolled in a Goethe Institute class in German and passed a high-level exam demonstrating his proficiency and fluency. One professor said he “absorbed German language and culture like a sponge.”
“I really loved that year in Germany. I got to travel to a lot of places, I met some people who I’m still in touch with, and I learned a lot of interesting things, including some skills that I didn’t expect,” he said. “If you want to learn to be better at small talk, networking or giving presentations, try doing them in a different language. That made it so much easier to do them in English.”
At Deutsche Bahn, Powers worked mostly on computer modeling of train systems, and he followed that up with an internship at the Rhode Island offices of Supfina Machine Co., a company he calls “half American, half German” that builds superfinishing machines for clients like General Motors.
But Powers’ college career wasn’t all work and no play. He also played saxophone in the URI Big Band for two years and competes on the URI ultimate Frisbee team, which traveled throughout the region and as far as Florida and Georgia to compete against other universities.
With just a few weeks before he graduates, Powers is focused on the next steps in achieving his career goals. He is deciding between several graduate schools to which he has been accepted for master’s degree programs in industrial engineering, and he eventually will seek a job in the ergonomics field.
“I’ll be taking some psychology classes and biomechanics classes so I can design products that incorporate how people think and how we move,” he said. “Whether I end up designing keyboards or chairs or whatever, I just want to make things that work the way you want them to.”]]>
Ocean engineering Professors James Miller and Harold “Bud” Vincent appeared on CNN in April 2014 to speak about the search for the plane and the 239 people aboard. Miller took CNN reporter Rosa Flores out on Narragansett Bay to demonstrate how searchers listen for a “ping” from an airplane’s black boxes. Armed with a hydrophone (an underwater microphone), Miller and the CNN crew attempt to pick up the pings from a nearby device and witness how quickly the signal fades with distance. The search is also complicated by other sounds in the ocean emitted by sea life, the ship itself and even rainfall.
With little luck detecting pings from the black boxes, searchers have turned to underwater vehicles to explore the seabed. However, a recently deployed vehicle, the Bluefin-21, had to return to the surface because the ocean proved too deep. Vincent, a former U.S. Navy diver, told CNN that even if the vehicle reaches the seabed, silt may cover the plane making it all but invisible to sonar and camera imagery.
James Miller Shows How Pingers Work
Bud Vincent Discusses the Problem of Silt]]>
More than 47,000 people, 9,700 ships and 127 planes spent months cleaning up oil released during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Yet, four years later the tools to fight offshore oil spills remain remarkably rudimentary. Now a team of University of Rhode Island engineering professors is demonstrating novel approaches that could change the way we battle oil spills.
Led by chemical engineering Professors Arijit Bose and Geoffrey Bothun, the approach relies on nanoparticles each about a hundred times thinner than a strand of human hair. To study how these tiny particles can clean up oil, the professors have received $995,775 from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative established in wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Since their funding arrived in 2011, Bose, Bothun and their collaborators have published their results and small-scale pilot projects are now being explored to evaluate the potential for commercialization.
“On the downside the Deepwater Horizon spill happened,” Bothun says. “On the upside it motivated a lot of engineers and scientists to come up with new ways to fight oil spills.”
At URI, Bothun and Bose are taking complementary approaches to stop oil from forming globs that threaten wildlife and wash up on beaches. To emulsify the oil (break it into small droplets) and make it attractive to oil-eating microorganisms, Bothun has turned to silica and Bose to carbon black.
To investigate the ideas, the professors formed an interdisciplinary team that crosses departments and universities. URI civil and environmental engineering Assistant Professor Vinka Oyanedel-Craver is working with Bothun. Chemistry Assistant Professor Mindy Levine and Metcalf Institute Executive Director Sunshine Menezes are partnering with Bose. Researchers at Brown University and the University of Florida at Gainesville, along with students from URI and other institutions, round out the team.
Bothun’s research seeks to turn off-the-shelf products into oil spill cleaners. Currently, responders often rely on chemical dispersants, which are effective but their safety is questioned. So Bothun and his team of students turned to nanoparticles of benign silica (sand) and FDA-approved surfactants, which force oil to emulsify.
Teaming up with researchers at the University of Maryland and Texas A&M International University, Bothun’s group found that some nanoparticles and surfactants work very well alone or in combination with traditional dispersants. The team hopes that when loaded with nutrients, the compounds stop oil from forming slicks on the surface of the ocean and attract microorganisms that eat oil.
Down the hall, Bose and his team want to turn carbon black into the go-to dispersant. Generally considered safe, the particles emulsify oil, absorb toxic polycyclic-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are widely available and are inexpensive.
Bose started researching the potential of carbon black to clean up oil while on sabbatical at Cabot Corp., one of the world’s largest producers of carbon black. In collaboration with researchers there and at Tulane University, Bose discovered carbon black is a powerful oil emulsifier.
“Nobody has used carbon black in this way,” Bose says. “It seemed like a good idea because it’s so widely available.”
The professors say both their approaches could be tweaked to assist with oil spills occurring in extremely cold water. That potential has taken on new urgency as oil companies express interest in drilling in the Arctic.
“The Gulf of Mexico spill that started this research was just one spill,” Bothun says. “Other spills are going to happen. Whether they’re close to us or not, we’re going to have to come up with ways to minimize the damage.”]]>
The United Nations says more people die annually from contaminated water than war. Polluted water is one of the leading causes of death for children and is wreaking irreversible harm to our world’s ecosystem. University of Rhode Island civil and environmental engineering student Maria Briones (’14) finds that simply unacceptable.
“It’s heartbreaking to me to know there are people that don’t have necessities such as toilets,” Briones says. “I think it’s a basic human right to have access to proper sanitation and clean water.”
The energetic 22-year-old from East Providence, RI has soaked up as much experience as possible in hopes of reducing deaths attributed to polluted water.
In 2011, she traveled to Guatemala with the URI chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World to assist a rural village with developing sanitation infrastructure. Briones assists civil and environmental engineering Assistant Professor Vinka Oyanedel-Craver with clean water research projects and interned with the R.I. Department of Transportation environmental division. She joined the Spanish International Engineering Program to gain the engineering and language skills necessary to work in Spanish-speaking regions, many of which suffer from severe water issues. After she graduates in May 2014, Briones hopes to join the Peace Corps while simultaneously pursuing a master’s in environmental engineering.
“Maria’s determination to use her engineering skills to make this world a better place is truly inspirational,” Oyanedel-Craver says. “When she traveled with me to Guatemala she not only performed engineering work but also prepared civil engineering lessons for local high school students. Students in the community still remember that activity.”
For Briones, the quest to deliver clean water is personal. Her family immigrated to the United States from Ecuador when she was a baby. Although Briones has known only a lifestyle where toilets always flush and clean water always flows from the tap, she frequently thinks of her extended family in South America who views such plumbing as luxuries.
“That could have been me,” Briones says.
Her family also lacks access to the educational opportunities available to Briones, who will become just the second member of her family to graduate college. It’s one reason Briones has pushed herself to excel in every fashion. During her academic career, she routinely took challenging course loads. She served as the first woman president of the University’s chapter of Theta Tau, the professional engineering fraternity. She was a resident academic mentor in the Engineering Living Learning Community and serves as an ambassador to foreign exchange students.
“We invest so much in education we have to make the most of it,” she says. “I find it silly when people don’t take every opportunity to make something of themselves because this is a perfect time.”
The opportunities for Briones have extended beyond the Kingston Campus. Through the IEP, Briones spent a year in Spain, studying at the University of Cantabria and then interning at the Center of Studies and Technical Research in Gipuzkoa. At both places, Briones spoke solely in Spanish, a language she never learned growing up despite her Ecuadorian roots. It challenged her, especially speaking rapidly about fluid dynamics in Spanish, but Briones viewed it as another opportunity. It’s a philosophy Briones expects to carry with her wherever she goes.
“People should challenge themselves,” she says. “Sometimes they will fail but if you prevail that’s what sets you apart.”]]>