For more than 150 years New York City's Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (more commonly called The Cooper Union) has finished its school years with an annual event showcasing student projects in the areas of art, architecture and engineering. Of the more than 300 projects on display this year were several inventions designed and built by students demonstrating a firm grasp of what society will want and need from technology moving forward. Such inventions included a bicycle that features a flywheel, a wave energy converter and a mobile mini-robot.
The school awarded its Nicholas Stefano Prize for an outstanding mechanical engineering senior project to Maxwell von Stein for his flywheel bicycle. The bike (see the video below) uses a spinning flywheel to recover energy lost during braking so it can be later reclaimed to boost speed. A flywheel can temporarily store the kinetic energy from the bicycle when the rider needs to slow down, according to von Stein. The energy stored in the flywheel can be used to bring the cyclist back up to cruising speed. In this way the cyclist recovers the energy normally lost during braking. In addition to increased energy efficiency, the flywheel-equipped bicycle is more fun to ride since the rider has the ability to boost speed, he adds.
Von Stein's invention features a 6.8-kilogram flywheel from an automobile engine mounted to a bicycle frame. The flywheel is driven through a continuously variable transmission in the rear wheel. During charge, the transmission is shifted to increase the ratio of flywheel speed to bike speed. During boost, it's shifted to decrease the ratio of flywheel speed to bike speed. The rider can charge the flywheel when slowing or descending a hill and boost the bike when accelerating or climbing a hill. The flywheel increases maximum acceleration and nets 10 percent pedal energy savings during a ride where speeds are between 20 and 24 kilometers per hour.
The Harold S. Goldberg Award for technical leadership in engineering went to Charles Canepa for an ocean wave energy converter. Canepa, who also won the school's William C. and Esther Hoffman Beller Prize for civil engineering, worked with fellow Cooper Union engineering students Matias Garibalid, Daniel Nash and Jacob Presky to design their wave energy converter so that the flap pushed by the waves is kept orthogonal to the waves' forward direction. This way, maximum torque is constantly transmitted to the device's drive shaft and maximum power is captured.
Canepa and his team are one of many groups in academia and industry developing technology that can convert wave power into renewable energy to decrease the world's dependence on fossil fuels. For example, the U.S. Energy Department is funding a project led by Ocean Power Technologies to use the company's buoys to capture wave energy off the coast of Oregon. Likewise, Edinburgh-based Pelamis Wave Power is working with Swedish utility Vattenfall to install Pelamis serpentine-like wave energy converters near Scotland's Shetland Islands to deliver power to 26,000 homes there.
Nicholas Wong and Hadi Jammal won the Wilson G. Hunt Award given to a graduating mechanical engineering student based on general engineering excellence in his studies. Wong worked with fellow Cooper Union students Lili Ehrlich and David Isele to design and build the Mojo-Robo tank robot, an autonomous device that specializes in launching ping-pong balls. Wong was also part of the Cooper Union's Interactive Light Room project, where he was the primary designer of electronic "firefly" devices that educate and entertain children—in particular those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Each firefly is a self-contained circuit board that achieves synchrony of flashing with other fireflies in its proximity as arranged on a magnetic wall.
Jammal worked with classmate Saman Farid to develop a reconfigurable mold they hope will help inventors and industry rapidly produce small quantities of customized parts used when building prototype devices. The reconfigurable mold is akin to the PinArt toy, which uses small pins that move in and out to create a cavity to fit a predefined shape, such as one's hand. Instead of pins, Jammal and Farid's mold uses pegs that can be adjusted in and out (using software) according to an inventor's needs.