ORONO, Maine — Maine is about as far away as can be from Mozambique, but a group of 27 University of Maine engineering students have learned this year the work on their senior-year projects could make a difference in the African country.
Five teams of students in UMaine’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program, under the direction of professor Herb Crosby, each unveiled Wednesday morning their design for the Landmine Victim Mobility Vehicle Project.
The five- and six-person teams of students each created a prototype for a hand-powered tricycle wheelchair meant for adults who have been the victims of land mines in Mozambique, a nation that has undergone great political upheaval.
The winning team’s design was announced after each group presented its design inside Hill Auditorium, followed by a series of tests in Wednesday’s rainy, chilly weather for each of the prototype tricycles.
The MET student design contest was held in conjunction with Maine Day, an annual event during which classes are canceled for the day so that students, faculty and staff can help spruce up the campus and perform community service projects.
For the MET students, the project served as the culmination of their engineering education.
“I just asked that they do some worthwhile public service project,” Crosby said while students and visitors mingled near the tricycles displayed in the Engineering Science Research Building. “The students thought this was pretty much ideal. They’ve all killed themselves doing this.”
Senior Jon Harned, who is from Wisconsin, said the six-month project was a learning experience that reached beyond engineering.
“For the most part in the past three years we’ve only been taught how to do specific things in the machine shop, or specific calculations,” Harned said. “This was kind of the culmination of everything we learned. We went through the design phase, creating parts, cost and budgeting, assembly, testing, listening to consumer feed-back. To create something like that in six months was incredible.”
The original intent was for the winning design to be produced with help from a South African insurance company, said an official from Seattle-based charity organization Coreplan International, which backed the competition.
But Coreplan CEO Kim Keeley said she now envisions some elements of each team’s tricycle can be incorporated in the final design.
One prototype, which was made out of bamboo — a material the group said can easily be found in Mozambique — had a large cargo area in the front. Most of the designs had the cargo area in the back.
“For the bamboo one, although they thought they were building a wheelchair, they in fact came up with a phenomenal mobile market,” Keeley said. “You never leave your seat, and you have your eye on your merchandise at all times.”
The requirements for the project that were unique for the tricycles’ intended purpose in Mozambique included hand-powered design, wheelchair accessibility, stability on rough terrain, cargo-carrying capability, low materials cost and a simple design that can be manufactured and assembled locally.
Teams were scored on their presentation Wednesday in addition to how well they stuck to cost and weight limitations. The testing included ratings of stability, braking, endurance and ability to traverse obstacles.
The judges were professional engineers and two members of the community who use wheelchairs.
The winning team — composed of seniors Jacob Cookson, Levi Guimond, Jesse Miller, Matthew Mingo and Sean Theriault — devised a push-pull system of powering its tricycle.
“Our design was based on an Irish mail [cart],” Guimond said during his team’s presentation. “It uses a push-pull lever to drive a main gear, which then drives the axle and propels the gear forward.”
The winners also had one of the least expensive prototypes — most teams went over the recommended cost of $200 in wholesale materials, and the winning team’s design came in at $349.96. It also was one of the lighter prototypes, coming in at 72 pounds.
“We liked the fact that you used your whole upper body, which helps lessen the strain on your arms,” Keeley said of the push-pull system that brings the back and abdomen muscles into play. “It was a simple, simple design.”
Keeley and 1983 UMaine MET alumnus Walter Shostak, who is a neighbor of Keeley’s in Seattle and helped connect her with the UMaine students, both attended the presentations and watched the trials.
Coreplan, which also has offices in London and Mexico, works with disenfranchised children, going into an area after it has been swept for land mines to provide infrastructure.