Insights from Teaching
At WPI, as I started my full-time teaching career and began teaching various courses, I realized the following:
- Availability of qualified teaching assistants is always a challenge. Teaching assistants (TAs) are always in demand. Besides, most graduate students are not necessarily familiar in all topics and find it difficult to learn and simultaneously provide quality feedback to students (there have been very good TAs/graders but hard to come by). Quality feedback to students is very important and given the increasing enrollment and workload, this takes a backseat and so does the student learning. Similar issue plagues online delivery of course content.
- Generic software tools (solid modeling and analysis) do not provide students with design alternatives and analysis insights, such as whether something is correct or not and what changes needed to be done for improvement. They also do not correspond to the analyses being taught in various courses because those software tools are generally a melange of various methods. Besides, students should be able to quantify performance characteristics through analytical means and make comparisons with software results.
- Manufacturing and assembly are aspects that are consistently overlooked at various universities due to the emergence of new techniques like 3D Printing. But there are a lot of machines that are still an amalgamation of multiple assembled parts. Students with no experience find it difficult to prototype quality systems. There are also no means to provide feedback on their designs.
- Commercial tools are expensive and are too specific for courses with low-enrollment. If some of the requirements listed earlier are important, then a lot of tools do not satisfy those requirements either.
- There are a lot of research developments happening in different labs across campus and the world. A lot of those developments do not necessarily percolate into courses at various levels. It is important for students to be exposed to those developments. For instance, the common refrain I hear from students enrolled in Mechanical Engineering is that they do not want any part of programming or controls systems but those are integral in design and manufacturing. But, it is important for all students to be exposed to different fields without overwhelming them.
My research themes are centered around addressing the challenges listed above and ensuring that students have an elevated learning experience. The projects are centered around the following themes:
- Automated Design and Manufacturing
- Development of Mechatronic Systems
All the projects are currently handled through the undergraduate Major Qualifying Projects (MQPs), undergraduate and graduate Independent Study Projects (ISPs) and Master’s Theses. MQPs are group activities while ISPs and Master’s Theses activities are individual activities.
All the projects adhere to the following characteristics:
- Be generic so that the design can be easily customized to suit different requirements
- Adopt low cost and easily accessible techniques (for instance, use of 3D printing and open-source tools)
- Adhere to strict analysis methods using analytical and/or numerical techniques to validate design and performance
- Develop modules that can be easily adapted as course projects and modules to expose students to new developments in different fields
Automated Design and Manufacturing
In Automated Design and Manufacturing, my focus is to develop tools and techniques to automatically synthesize designs and generate manufacturing plans based on user specifications along varied scales (macro,micro,nano). Not only this, the plans are fed into different machines to automatically produce the parts and work with an integrated assembly system to assemble the devices. The ultimate aim is to develop demonstrable products that have real uses.
Within this broad area, I am also exploring the use of different techniques and the outcomes from various projects in other areas of interest to personalize and automate aspects of mechanical engineering education in the form of virtual labs.
The next theme below is essentially a knowledge gathering exercise that will eventually aid projects in the area of Automated Design and Manufacturing. Not only that, this will be the umbrella theme that uses my graduate research work and addresses the challenges listed above.
Development of Mechatronic Systems
My focus here is to develop mechatronic devices by applying fundamental and innovative techniques in design and manufacturing. The projects currently in progress fall into different categories namely
- Bio-mimicking and Humanoid Robots
- Rehabilation through Prostheses and Exoskeletons
- Autonomous Driving Systems
- Scale Cars for various applications
- 3D Printing
- Packaging for Mechatronic Systems