Biologically inspired mechanical systems for highly constrained environments

Biologically inspired mechanical systems for highly constrained environments


March 12, 2014 - 11:00am


Klaus 1116 E

The Global Engineering and Research (GEAR) Lab marries mechanical design theory and user-centered product design to create simple, elegant technological solutions for highly constrained environments. This presentation will focus on three GEAR Lab projects that use biologically inspired mechanical systems for this aim. RoboClam is a novel subsea burrowing robot based on the digging mechanisms of razor clams. RoboClam and razor clams use motions of their valves to locally fail and fluidize surrounding substrate to reduce drag and make burrowing energy scale linearly with depth, rather than depth squared for moving through static soil. For engineers, RoboClam technology offers an efficient, mechanically simple, and self-contained burrowing method that has value to applications in anchoring, subsea cable installation, and oil production. The focus of the All-Terrain Knee (ATKnee) project is to create a low-cost, high-performance prosthetic knee that uses only passive mechanical elements to generate a normal walking gait. Ideal gait kinematics of above-knee amputees were used to codify how leg segment mass affects desired knee torque and hip energy. These results were used to optimize a single linear spring and two friction dampers that can replicate the correct knee torque profile to R^2 = 0.90. Our aim is to provide similar levels of performance as $50,000 actively-controlled knees for $100 and create a high-performance, low-cost product appropriate for developing and developed countries. The final project that will be presented focuses on creating off-grid, low-cost drip irrigation systems. Drip irrigation requires up to 60% less water than conventional irrigation methods and is an effective means of helping subsistence farmers grow more and higher value crops to rise out of poverty. We are developing drip emitters that operate at one-tenth the pressure of existing systems in order to lower pumping power and make solar-powered drip irrigation economically viable for poor farmers. This technology uses compliant tubing to maintain a constant flow rate with variations in pressure, a phenomenon inspired by bronchi in human lungs.

Amos Winter is the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. He earned a BS from Tufts University (2003) and an MS (2005) and PhD (2011) from MIT, all in Mechanical Engineering. Prof. Winter’s research focuses on the marriage of mechanical design theory and user-centered product design to create simple, elegant technological solutions for use in highly constrained environments. His work includes design for emerging markets and developing countries, agricultural equipment, irrigation systems, assistive devices, water purification, and subsea systems. Prof. Winter is the principal inventor of the Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC), an all-terrain wheelchair designed for developing countries that was a winner of a 2010 R&D 100 award and was named one of the Wall Street Journal’s top innovations in 2011. He was the recipient of the 2010 Tufts University Young Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award, the 2010 MIT School of Engineering Graduate Student Extraordinary Teaching and Mentoring Award, the 2012 ASME/Pi Tau Sigma Gold Medal, and was named one of the MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 (TR35) for 2013.