Protecting military personnel: Changing the scope of senior design

During the fall semester, mechanical engineering seniors were working diligently to design projects that they would later build. Come spring semester, the COVID-19 crisis and the change to virtual instruction altered the scope of their project, but they are taking this change as a learning opportunity on adaptability.

Vineet Nair, Devin Rolon, Ivory Sarceno, Angelica Watson, and Matias Gipler, members of the chemical agent vehicle spray team that is sponsored by a division of the Department of Defense, were working on a device that could help military personnel decontaminate vehicles that could potentially have chemical warfare agents on them. Their sprayer device would identify the contaminated areas so cleaning efforts could be targeted to save time, reduce waste, and protect personnel.

“We decided on a standing frame that does pretty much everything on its own. It sprays the vehicle, takes pictures, uses an algorithm to identify the contaminated parts, and sends those photos to the operators so that they can see where these chemical warfare agents are located,” says Sarceno.

The team was almost finished building the frame before they left for spring break, and the news that they wouldn’t be allowed back on campus to finish building their project was a shock to the team. “I have been attending capstone day since my sophomore year, so I was looking forward to doing it myself,” says Nair. “Finding out I wouldn’t be able to have that presentation was disappointing.”

Gipler also sees capstone as a way to show the Mason community and beyond their work in action. “Senior capstone is a great way to showcase yourself to potential employers or companies you want to work with, so it’s unfortunate we are missing that opportunity to show the physical product that we were working on,” he says.

 “I keep thinking of a quote, ‘the only certainty is nothing is certain,’ I think we really learned that,” says Watson.

Despite the challenges and disappointments, the team changed their end product from a physical sprayer to a validation and verification report that they will present at the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s virtual capstone day on May 12. Sponsors are still invited, and the team will showcase what they came up with over the year and show what can be done if future senior design teams take on the project.

“In the real world, no engineering solution is perfect. What you try to do is take the constraints that we have to work with and provide a solution,” says Nathan Kathir, associate professor and head of senior design capstone for mechanical engineering.

Nair echoes Kathir’s sentiment. “This is a good way to start learning how to be flexible. It has made me more adaptable,” says Nair.

This story is part two of a previous story, Senior design helps DoD protect personnel.