Our warfighters have sacrificed a great deal to serve our country, and a Mason mechanical engineering senior design team is paying it forward to a veteran who needed an innovative engineering solution to improve everyday life.
Seniors Erwin Alicic, Taha Imtiaz, Jon Licata, Tanner Holland, Nicolas Corley, and Soheil Shadian are working with Quality of Life Plus (QL+), a non-profit that aims to use innovation to improve the quality of life for those who have served our country. The team’s challenger, an Army veteran who uses a wheelchair, tasked the team with designing and building a one-of-a-kind wheelchair.
“Our challenger needs to be able to more easily go up inclines in her wheelchair while carrying groceries or other items. Right now, it is hard for her to push herself up a hill or ramp while also carrying her things,” says Alicic, the team leader.
Upon receiving their challenge at the start of the fall 2020 semester, the team jumped right into devising a plan to see the project through from start to finish. They divided roles, brainstormed design concepts that tackled her specific needs, and they continue to play on each other’s strengths as they execute the project.
“We looked at who had what strengths or had more experience in areas of our project and assigned those roles accordingly. Each person acts as a specialist in their area,” says Alicic. “There are a lot of things to consider with building this wheelchair, like balance, safety, and ease of use. Our challenger needs it to be able to cross different terrains too, so we needed to figure out how to complete the project efficiently.”
The team must utilize all the skills and knowledge they have acquired throughout their college careers, from physics and technical design concepts to project management and entrepreneurship best practices.
And through collaboration with their sponsor, faculty advisor Adjunct Professor Robert Gallo, and the challenger, the team produced a design and learned along the way.
“We are used to starting a problem knowing that we have all of the information we need, and that wasn’t the case here. It took us time to get all of the right information, and to even know what questions to be asking,” says Imtiaz.
“There were meetings where we came away feeling much less confident than when we went in,” says Alicic. “We had to go back to the drawing board a few times once new information came to light, there was definitely some trial and error.”
Nonetheless, once they figured out the details, the team pinned down a design that fits within their given budget in the fall semester. “We decided to build an electrically motorized wheelchair with a swiveling basket in the back that she can easily store her things in without adding strain,” says Alicic.
Now in the spring semester, the team is looking forward to the building and testing portion of their project, and mostly, to the final result.
“For all our classes, we put in hard work on tests and assignments, and at the end, the reward is the grade that you earn. But with this project, it is much more fulfilling since we are making a real impact on someone’s life, and we get to see the difference in her day-to-day,” says Holland.
The team is looking forward to applying the knowledge they learned on this project to their future engineering careers. “We had to work within our given parameters with people we hadn’t worked with before, which is remarkably similar to how we will complete projects in the workforce. Senior design is a great way to learn about teamwork and how to work with different stakeholders,” says Alicic.