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Mechatronics exhibition at CMU.

Geared up for engineering

From automatic fishing poles to motorized coolers, mechatronics students put on a show

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

It was a bit chaotic in the lobby of the Engineering and Technology Building.

There was a motorized water gun squirting a stuffed animal, a beer cooler that followed its owner, and a fishing rod and reel that did all the casting and reeling.

Add to that scene a lot of students from Brian DeJong’s junior-level mechatronics class pleased to show off the results of their course-long projects.

"What I enjoy is when the students get working and you hear someone say 'That's it!' and the group celebrates the 'aha!' moment." — Brian DeJong, CMU faculty member

“It’s nice to make something and see it work instead of just working on problems,” said Jason Walker, a mechanical engineering junior from East Aurora, Illinois.

“It’s really hands-on, gets you thinking and brainstorming, especially with your colleagues,” said Logan Mueller Jr., a mechanical engineering junior from Clay, Michigan.

That’s the idea.


“It used to be that you were a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer, and that’s all that you were expected to be,” DeJong said. “And now you have to work in a very diverse interdisciplinary field. You have to understand all these different areas. There’s been a big push from industry to have engineers who can work in teams, not just in the theoretical, but also in the application.

“In a lot of our classes, we design things on paper but we never physically realize them,” he said. “Here they are planning something out and learn some of the softer skills like budgeting and problem-solving when something doesn’t work.”

The students also learned how to come up with goals that are not only practical but also can be completed on a deadline.

“We were coming up with ideas that were too advanced to complete in one semester, so we had to scale it down a bit,” Mueller said.

His group settled on creating a semiautomatic window shade. Using an Arduino as the brain and a servomotor, the blind goes up when a room is too dark and goes down when there is too much light.

Another group decided it would be great to have a cooler that could transport itself. It was designed by junior mechanical engineering majors Mark Brunet, of Redford, Devin Grim of Dearborn Heights and Brant Tenbrink of Allendale, all in Michigan.

They all agreed that is was a fun project that brought together what they learned in class.

“We learned how all the sensors worked, and we learned how to write coding and how to debug it. It definitely was beneficial,” said Brunet.

Getting the students thinking and problem-solving together is a major goal of DeJong’s. Plus, he loves to see their sense of accomplishment.

“What I enjoy is when the students get working and you hear someone say ‘That’s it!’ and the group celebrates the ‘aha!’ moment,” he said.

“I hold the public showcase because I want them to be proud of their projects.”

That’s also why he puts them on YouTube.

This was the second time DeJong’s mechatronics class has been offered. His goal is to make it a regular part of the curriculum.

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