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Mech seniors shining bright

Night Rider
From left: Samantha Frampton, Giovanni Magaña, Nicole Papetti, Sergio Rodriguez, Alex Granieri, Colby Moore; Photo credit: Heidi Williams

Last spring, five mechanical engineering juniors, each armed with their own “bug list” of things that bothered them and needed fixing in their own lives or society, locked themselves in a room and determined no one would leave until they had decided what they would work on for their capstone senior project. The team was drafted by Alex Granieri, who hand-picked individuals he knew to be smart, personable, hard-working, low stress, and “good documentation-ists.”

Fast forward nearly a year and the team of Granieri, Giovanni Magaña, Colby Moore, Nicole Papetti, and Sergio Rodriguez have designed Night Rider, an adaptive headlight equipped with sensors, a microprocessor, and a control system that moves the lamp to optimize a motorcyclist’s visibility according to road conditions, speed, roll, and pitch of the vehicle.

Based on their strengths, the team broke into subgroups focusing on mechanical design, dynamics and kinematic simulations, and logical systems. Later, Samantha Frampton ’10 from the business school joined the team to develop a business plan and help package and promote their design (BMW has expressed interest).

“It’s amazing how much work this project takes,” the team said, “with five or six people working nonstop, it still feels like we’re just crawling along sometimes.” They admit to biting off more than they could chew at first, but they realize adjusting their goal to be more realistic about how much they could accomplish was part of their growth process.

Another lesson: frugality. Paying for most of the materials themselves (with some help from kindly grandmothers) has led to some dumpster diving, closet raiding, and a sustainable mindset. “We don’t buy unnecessarily and we are very conscious of how efficiently we use our materials,” said Granieri.

All in all, they agree the experience has been “awesome!” “I’ve waited my whole educational career for this moment to apply what I’ve learned to a year-long, hands-on project like this,” said Moore, “Having our group work so well putting our specialties together... It’s pretty shocking to see it all work!”

Recently, the team entered an American Society of Mechanical Engineers competition, making it to the semifinals where they will vie against powerhouses such as MIT and Stanford in June. The future looks bright for this project!