Drones that deliver medicine, tools to track box turtles: A peek at this year’s engineering capstone projects

An Eastern Box Turtle meandering through the grass in coastal Virginia. A VCU team has developed a way to help the Box Turtle Sanctuary of Central Virginia track these turtles. (Getty Images)
An Eastern Box Turtle meandering through the grass in coastal Virginia. A VCU team has developed a way to help the Box Turtle Sanctuary of Central Virginia track these turtles. (Getty Images)

From people with amputated limbs to overdose victims, a wide range of people will benefit from the projects developed by Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering students this past year.

Those projects will be on display at the college’s annual Capstone Design Expo on Friday, April 26, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, 1200 W. Broad St.

Among the innovations to be presented are a drone that can deliver and inject lifesaving medicine to overdosed patients in remote areas, swim trunks that will allow a veteran who lost both legs to swim in lake water without risk of infection, and an optimized door wedge that is better than locks at protecting against active shooters in public buildings.

Here is a peek at some of this year’s projects.

Waterproof Osseointegration Covers
Department: Chemical and Life Science Engineering
Team: Megan Freeman, Kyle McDaniel, Joshua Snow
Adviser: Bennett C. Ward, Ph.D.
Sponsor: QL+ 

Nick, a U.S. Army veteran who prefers us to only use his first name, wants to teach his kids to swim the way he learned: in the lakes of Michigan. But Nick, who was injured by an improvised explosive device, lost both legs above the knee. A surgery to implant titanium rods allows him to wear prosthetic attachments, however, they present a specific challenge to aquatic activities. He is at risk for infection — especially in bacteria-filled lake water.

This capstone team is designing and creating waterproof covers to protect his body while swimming and reduce any risk of infection. The criteria is that the covers must stay on during water activities and be waterproof and durable. Plus, the wearer must be able to put them on and take them off independently. The students have been developing prototypes based on feedback from Nick and his surgeon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Box Turtle Tracker

Department: Computer Science
Team: Amy Brick, Kari Chamberlain, Christine Reed
Adviser: Vojislav Kecman, Ph.D.
Sponsor: Box Turtle Sanctuary of Central Virginia

Eastern box turtles, which regularly live to be as old as 100, have an almost unbreakable connection to their individual habitat. If their habitat is disturbed or they are removed from it, these turtles will often wander aimlessly trying to find their original home until they die.

This team is designing an innovative way to track box turtles. They have created a novel mobile application for Android devices that allows a user to upload a turtle’s picture along with a name. The app extracts GPS information from the images to plot the turtle’s location and date on a map. Users can continue to access a turtle’s history and previous locations by accessing its profile.

The Box Turtle Sanctuary of Central Virginia is a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates and provides a new, nurturing environment for box turtles that are injured, displaced or lost from the area where they grew up. Keeping accurate, organized records of all the turtles and monitoring their location across the sprawling rural Hanover County sanctuary is crucial — and challenging.

DropLock

Scott Witthaus, M.A., an associate professor in the VCU Brandcenter, and the late Chris McCann, created the DropLock device, which can be safely and easily deployed to buy time during an active shooter incident and keep people safe until law enforcement arrives. Witthaus is working with a Capstone Design team to optimize the device’s wedge component. (Photo courtesy Scott Witthaus)
Scott Witthaus, M.A., an associate professor in the VCU Brandcenter, and the late Chris McCann, created the DropLock device, which can be safely and easily deployed to buy time during an active shooter incident and keep people safe until law enforcement arrives. Witthaus is working with a Capstone Design team to optimize the device’s wedge component. (Photo courtesy Scott Witthaus)

Department: Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering
Team: Jeffrey Johnson, Brodie Mangold, Marlon Padilla, Bryan Raqui, Enzo Rodrigo
Advisers: Braden Goddard, Ph.D. and Major Security Consulting & Design
Sponsor: VCU Brandcenter associate professor Scott Witthaus 

For those sheltering in place during an active shooter event, every second counts.

DropLock, a fast and simple door-blocking device invented by Scott Witthaus, an associate professor in the VCU Brandcenter, and the late Chris McCann, can be deployed to buy time during an incident and keep people safe until law enforcement arrives.

The capstone team is testing materials and geometric proportions to create the strongest possible wedge design. The bottom surface is key because it has to induce maximum friction on carpet, wood, tile, linoleum and other common floor surfaces. Inspiration for surfaces they are prototyping comes from tire treads, shoe soles, heat-transfering zigzag patterns and even nature (scales, soles, honeycombs). The goal is a cost-effective design that allows for mass production without sacrificing effectiveness.

 

Ambulance Drone for Rapid Delivery of Medical Supplies

Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Team: Alexander Larson, Theodore McGary, Johnson Mphofe
Advisers: Robert H. Klenke, Ph.D.Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D.
Sponsor: U.S. Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate

Naloxone, a medication sold under the brand names Evzio and Narcan, can rapidly reverse opioid overdose but administering it quickly is key to its effectiveness. 

This capstone team is prototyping a specialty drone that can receive requests and travel to an emergency location without the slowdowns of street traffic. When it arrives, the drone can inject naloxone into a muscle or just under the skin via a rapid auto-injector that can penetrate clothing. Their drone has a camera so medical professionals can guide the injection in real time. It is meant to complement, not replace, emergency services by keeping the patient alive until first responders are on the scene. 

Dynamic Center-of-Gravity Display

Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Team: Sammy Ezzeddine, John Foster, Michael Lewis
Adviser: Michael J. Cabral, Ph.D.
Sponsor: Cranemasters

When trains derail, specialty cranes that can carry loads as heavy as 200,000 pounds on uneven terrain are deployed to place them back on the tracks. The risk of a tip over is high.

When trains derail, as pictured here, specialty cranes are deployed to place them back on the tracks. The risk of a tip-over is high. A VCU team is creating a display that reliably monitors a crane’s center-of-gravity in harsh, unpredictable conditions and lets operators know when it is in danger of tipping. (Getty Images)
When trains derail, as pictured here, specialty cranes are deployed to place them back on the tracks. The risk of a tip-over is high. A VCU team is creating a display that reliably monitors a crane’s center-of-gravity in harsh, unpredictable conditions and lets operators know when it is in danger of tipping. (Getty Images)

This team is creating a display that reliably monitors a crane’s center of gravity in harsh, unpredictable conditions and lets operators know when it is in danger of tipping. The project is a scale-up of 2018’s Capstone Design winner in the multi-departmental category. This year's project, based in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, uses last year's model as a starting point to adapt the design to a full-scale crane. 

To function on the irregular surface of a derailment site, the VCU team’s display runs real-time calculations based on variables including incline, pitch and angle, weight and torque.

When their project is complete, it will be a fully enclosed display mounted to a Cranemasters crane and ready for service.

Iron Meteorite Imaging System

Departments: Chemical and Life Science Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering
Team: Bazah Alhooli, Luis A. Beltran, Christopher Davis-Smith, Jethrine H. Mugumya, Sean Newman, Kyle Watson, Nathaniel J. Wygal
Advisers: Frank Gulla, M.S., P.E.; Gregory E. Triplett, Ph.D.; Bennett Ward, Ph.D.
Sponsors: Arizona State University, NASA, the Smithsonian Institution

Psyche, a metal asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, appears to be the exposed iron-nickel core of an early planet. Scientists infer a similar metal core deep within Earth, but cannot see or measure it directly. Data on Psyche’s meteorites will give researchers a better understanding of Earth’s core and the history of planetary formation.

A VCU team is creating an Iron Meteorite Imaging System that can analyze an iron meteorite sample and visually determine its mineral components. (Getty Images)
A VCU team is creating an Iron Meteorite Imaging System that can analyze an iron meteorite sample and visually determine its mineral components. (Getty Images)

The VCU multidisciplinary team is creating an Iron Meteorite Imaging System that can analyze an iron meteorite sample and visually determine its mineral components. It also has a database to store images and catalog color, texture and other details about each meteorite.

The system will serve as the foundation for an automated recognition system to assist in NASA’s Psyche mission, which is set to launch in 2022.

Emi Endo and Rebecca Jones contributed to this report.