Jul 3, 2019
After attending a science conference at the United Nations, a group of Cal Poly engineering students says it now has the tools needed to discuss the university’s role in sustainable development.
Last May, a team of nine Cal Poly students, from the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and the Critical Global Engagement club (CGE), went to New York to participate in the fourth annual UN Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals Forum. The forum provides a platform for a network of stakeholders to discuss how science, technology and innovation can facilitate and impact the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Sustainable development is commonly defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs.
The forum offered diverse perspectives that will allow the students to explore different approaches to challenges, said Taylor Klein, a mechanical engineering student, who is involved with both EWB Cal Poly and CGE.
“It revealed the necessity of cross-disciplinary collaboration and collective action across stakeholder groups for the implementation of science, technology and innovation,” she said. “As a multi-stakeholder forum, it provided an avenue for civil society, particularly young people, to engage in global science policy.”
The Cal Poly students participated as part of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UN MGCY). Speaking on behalf of the group, students made statements at the main sessions of the forum on topics such as climate action and resilience and the importance of indigenous local knowledge, Klein said.
EWB Cal Poly and CGE students also planned, proposed, and facilitated a panel and discussion titled, “Diverse Approaches to Climate Action and Resilience.”
“The forum gives EWB and Critical Global Engagement Club members a broader understanding of the role that we play in sustainable development,” Klein said. “Participating in the forum has given us the tools to bring these discussions back to Cal Poly and start a conversation about our role in sustainable development.”
Jul 2, 2019
Cal Poly electrical engineering professor Taufik has two ambitious directives for his research: Enable the more than 1.6 billion people living far off the grid to flip on a light switch; and two, battle the effects of climate change by dramatically increasing the efficiency of renewable energy sources.
The United States Patent & Trademark Office believes a device developed by Taufik and former undergraduate student Owen Jong addresses both points. Notified in June that he would be receiving a U.S. patent this fall, Taufik’s device, called the “Multiple Input Single Output DC-DC Converter with Equal Load Sharing on Multiple Inputs” or MISO, makes it possible to effectively and efficiently combine the input of multiple low-power electricity sources into one stronger output source.
“MISO allows any type of low power energy device — solar, wind, water in a stream, even human-powered generators like a bicycle — to be connected to one house,” said Taufik. “It’s collecting multiple little sources of energy into one bigger source. In the developing world, a little electricity goes a long way. Just keeping a light on at night is huge.”
MISO’s ability to work with direct current (DC) electricity is the key to making it more efficient. Because the grid uses alternating current (AC) and renewable power sources like solar panels and small-scale wind turbines produce DC power, costly converters that lose energy are required.
“Converters add to the expense and are less efficient by 15-35 percent depending on the load,” said Taufik, who runs the DC House project on campus. “It makes no sense for people in rural areas that live off the grid to convert DC to AC. It’s much more efficient to stay with DC power.”
Taufik, who previously received a patent for a “Multiphase DC-DC Converter for Voltage Regulator Module” to supply power to microprocessors, said he worked with the Cal Poly Office of Research and Economic Development to secure the MISO patent.
“The research to get MISO started actually began in 2010 because it’s a critical component in the DC House project, and the patent process took almost three years,” he said. “Different ideas for MISO converters were attempted and improvements were continuously sought after until we believe we found the best and unique solution.”
Taufik shared the credit for the invention. “The work toward this patent would never have been accomplished without the help of many of my former students who took on the challenges in the MISO converter project, and in the overall DC House project,” he said. “I truly owe this patent to these hard working and bright students.”
Born in Indonesia, where much of the population lives on remote islands with limited electricity, Taufik sees a world-wide market for MISO. “Hopefully, with the help of Cal Poly, we can market this to companies that deal with electrification in developing countries or even rural areas of the U.S. where people want to live off the grid,” he said. “There’s an off-the-grid community east of Santa Maria, Quail Springs, that contacted us because they want to build a DC-powered house. We’ve had a lot of interest in it because, right now, the world is beginning to learn that residential DC power is more efficient — and cheaper.”
For more information on Taufik’s work with DC electricity, see dchouse.calpoly.edu.
Jun 27, 2019
As the Quality of Life Plus (QL+) program plans to expand to more than 20 universities and military academies nationwide by 2020, founder and Cal Poly alum Jon Monett credited two of its early supporters recently for the program’s growth.
“When they gave us the donation, we had one university we worried about,” Monett said, speaking at the QL+ lab on the Cal Poly campus. “And that was this one.”
Those supporters, Suzy Leprino and her late husband, Mike Leprino, were recently honored at the lab, where a portrait of the couple was unveiled.
During that presentation, attended by University President Jeffrey D. Armstrong, College of Engineering Dean Amy S. Fleischer and others, Monett explained how the program pairs the physical challenges of wounded veterans with engineering students working on senior projects. Throughout the school year, students work on devices – often prosthetics – that can help improve the quality of life for the vets.
“We like undergraduate students because they don’t know any better,” Monett said. “They don’t know what can’t be done.”
While students bring fresh ideas to veterans in need, Fleischer said the program also helps students become better engineers.
“They know that what they’re designing has an end goal, and that it’s going to have an impact on somebody’s life, and that makes it very real for them in a way that a homework problem never will,” she said.
Monett established the program at his alma mater in 2008. Mike and Suzy Leprino became crucial early supporters.
“Mike was a patriot – he was a good American,” said Suzy Leprino. “And he always wanted to help the veterans.”
Mike Leprino passed away last August at age 90. While the Leprinos were Colorado residents, they had a connection to San Luis Obispo County in 2003, when they purchased the historic La Panza Ranch in Santa Margarita. There they formed friendships with neighbors – many who attended the ceremony in their honor.
Armstrong noted that the Leprinos have supported the university in several ways, including giving to the new wine and viticulture center, the William and Linda Frost Center for Research and Innovation and the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy.
“They have been amazing friends to Cal Poly,” Armstrong said.
Their support of the QL+ lab has allowed students to help others – specifically, veterans with unique, individual challenges.
Last year, students in the 12 QL+ programs helped 30 veterans. The QL+ program is negotiating to add several more labs in locations that include West Point, the Naval Academy, Dartmouth, North Carolina State and University of Alabama, among others.
And it all began at Cal Poly, which remains Monett’s favorite.
During the last school year, Cal Poly seniors worked on six projects in the lab, helping veterans cook, surf, ride a bike, walk on the beach and more. Meanwhile, the Quality of Life Plus Student Association – a student club – worked on six projects, helping non-veterans with disabilities.
Leprino recently watched several of the senior project presentations at Cal Poly’s QL+ lab for the first time and was impressed by the student projects.
“I don’t think you ever really know how much a gift keeps on giving,” said Leprino, who is on the Eisenhower Medical Center Board of Trustees in Southern California. “And I’m really amazed that it’s been able to help so many people. I really am happy to be a small part of this.”
The QL+ lab, Armstrong said, combines Monett’s passions of using engineering to solve critical problems and supporting Cal Poly.
“This is really the power of Learn by Doing, which was born at Cal Poly and will always thrive here.”
Jun 26, 2019
LEO, the latest Cal Poly CubeSAT, launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket Monday night from NASA’s historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The megarocket — the most powerful launch vehicle currently in operation — also will be carrying 23 different satellites for the Air Force’s Space Test Program-2 mission. Cal Poly students and aerospace engineers have worked on about a dozen of these small satellites, helping install them in the spring-loaded boxes that will nudge them into space.
These include a softball-size satellite, built by Florida high school students, that will communicate through Wi-Fi to LEO, as well as The Planetary Society’s much-anticipated LightSail 2. Cal Poly students have been instrumental in testing the citizen-funded project that Bill Nye (the Science Guy) has called a potential game changer for low-cost interplanetary space travel. And the students will perform critical ground station operations for the spacecraft that is about the size of a loaf of bread, working with Nye’s TPS team to unfurl the Mylar sail (the size of a boxing ring) about two weeks after launch to ultimately test the feasibility of using a sail to harness photons from the sun to propel the spacecraft. (Cal Poly and The Planetary Society have worked together on the LightSail project and its two spacecraft since 2010.)
Here's a short video of the May 2019 intergration of LEO and StangSat.
Jun 21, 2019
When a viral video revealed a dispenser that only offered soap to white people, commenters were quick to joke that the product was somehow racist.
While that notion seemed absurd, the soap dispenser’s design actually did show proof of racial bias, said Ben Lutz, a member of the mechanical engineering faculty.
“It really brings up important questions around equity and inclusion in engineering design process,” said Lutz, one of 16 new assistant professors hired campus-wide to promote inclusive teaching strategies.
The new tenure-track faculty members will contribute to the university’s diversity and inclusion goals in their departments and colleges, along with the university and the community.
One of Lutz’s interests is social justice in engineering. And the soap dispenser is one example he uses to illustrate the issue.
The original video was shot by a Nigerian tech worker, who noticed that a soap dispenser didn’t work when he placed a hand under it but did work when a light-skinned hand was beneath it. The man, Chukwuemeka Afigo, posted the video on Twitter, writing, “If you have ever had a problem grasping the importance of diversity in tech and its impact on society, watch this video.”
Since then, others have posted videos of different soap dispensers doing the same thing.
Experts have explained that the sensors used in the malfunctioning dispensers have a design flaw that does not recognize darker skin colors. Had the dispenser been tested on one person of color, the flaw would have been easily identified and corrected.
“At one level, the issue might have been caught and addressed in prototyping, and the team could have developed a product that recognized a broader range of skin tones,” Lutz said. “But at the same time, the example speaks to broader issues around the ways engineers make decisions, especially as it concerns who is included as a ‘user’ and who is left out – intentional or otherwise.”
Lutz joined the faculty at Cal Poly last fall, having earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, a master’s in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in engineering education, all from Virginia Tech, where he began teaching as a grad student.
Coming to Cal Poly, the Baltimore native knew diversity and inclusion was important because the university’s engineering program is so large, giving Cal Poly an opportunity to lead by example. More diversity in engineering, he said, could prevent things like the “racist soap dispenser,” because the teams would be more thoughtful about design considerations.
“Increasing diversity in engineering education helps engineers make better decisions and more fully explore the design problem space,” he said.
The need for diversity extends beyond utilitarian or even economic interests, he said.
“Most of the focus within an engineering curriculum is on technical content, which can send implicit and explicit messages that diversity or equity or justice are tangential concerns – afterthoughts to the design process,” he said.
Doing that, he added, positions engineers as neutral or apolitical, obscuring their role in the complex sociotechnical systems they develop.
“When you become aware of the problems related to diversity, equity and inclusion in engineering, it really becomes one’s responsibility to dismantle the systems that perpetuates these inequities,” he said.
Jun 20, 2019
Six middle school students whose school was destroyed in the deadly Paradise fires are among the hundreds of students who will be taking part in the third California Cyber Innovation Challenge, June 21-23.
This year’s challenge will present a medical cyber crime to students from 25 schools statewide. The students will sift through physical evidence and use their computer skills to attempt to solve the crime before time runs out.
“They have six hours for this challenge,” said Jess MacMillan, the Cal Poly liberal arts and engineering studies student who created the storyline. “Two hours to go through all the rooms and four hours to actually analyze all the evidence.”
This is the first time students from Achieve Charter School in Paradise, California, will take part in the event -- less than a year after the Camp Fire destroyed more than 18,800 structures in Butte County last November, including the students’ homes and school.
“They are so excited about the competition,” said Jorge Rojas, the team’s coach and a middle school history teacher at Achieve Charter, which is now holding classes in portable trailers behind a church in Chico. “They already know that they really enjoy technology. Now they can understand that they can actually do a lot with it if they want to pursue it as a career.”
Twenty-nine high school and middle school teams from across the state will compete in two divisions at the CCIC, a California-focused, statewide cybersecurity championship competition that aims to deepen students’ interest in the growing field of cybersecurity.
“We are thrilled to have Achieve Charter join this year’s competition,” said Martin Minnich, program manager for Cal Poly’s California Cybersecurity Institute. “The Cal Poly community admires the students and the Town of Paradise’s resolve and spirit as they rebuild their lives after the devastating fire.”
Achieve Charter competed in a regional California Mayors Cyber Cup event in the spring, with the middle school team placing first. The win marked a turning point for the students, who had only just learned about the competition and started training.
“They were so happy. Being in that competition was a change in mindset for them,” Rojas said. “With everything they’ve gone through, for them to feel the actual essence of winning something, it made them feel hopeful that there is going to be a better future for them.”
At Cal Poly, the Achieve Charter students and students from middle and high schools across California will participate in a competition intended to highlight the challenges of securing health care information and medical devices. The competition embodies Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing motto, as students experience live-immersive environments representing real-world scenarios.
Jess MacMillan,a liberal arts and engineering studies major, created the storyline for this year's challenge.
The students will use state-of-the-art forensics tools to extract and collect digital evidence to stop a health care-themed cyber plot. Using a combination of technical, analytical, and persuasive skills, each team will present their findings to a panel of expert judges representing leaders from industry, academia, government, and law enforcement.
“During the competition, students will interact with judges and ambassadors from a variety of industries,” Minnich said. “This gives them insight into future career possibilities and an opportunity to learn how Californians are protecting California.”
The CCIC is designed to raise up the next generation of cybersecurity professionals by increasing their cyber fluency, professional experience, and interest in digital forensics.
“In addition to training students on cyber forensics, we will provide hands-on learning opportunities for the next generation of cyber defenders,” California Cybersecurity Institute Director William J. “Bill” Britton said.
The following twenty-five schools, comprising twenty-nine teams, will compete in the CCIC:
• Achieve Charter School, Paradise
• Assurance Learning Academy, Lancaster (DoubleSimplex)
• Benjamin Franklin High School, Los Angeles (Voyager) • California High School, San Ramon (CyberSharks)
• Coast Union High School, Cambria (Coast1) • CORE Butte High School, Chico (HyperLynx2)
• Del Norte High School, San Diego (CyberAegis Aether, CyberAegis Chobani, CyberAegis Hyperion and CyberAegis Zelos)
• Gavilan High School, Gilroy
• Granada High School, Livermore (Purple Narwhals)
• Granada Hills Charter High School (Granada1) • Grand Terrace High School (CyberBois)
• James C Enochs High School, Modesto (DuBois) • Jesuit High School, Carmichael (R4808N)
• Martin Luther King High School, Riverside (MLKTeam1) • Mira Costa High School, Manhattan Beach (RAWSUGAR)
• Multiple schools from the Bay Area (CoderDojo) • North Hollywood High School (Mendenhall)
• Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Rolling Hills Estates (PantherTeam1)
• Roseville High School (l am g/)
• Santa Lucia Middle School, Cambria (SLMS1)
• Scripps Ranch High School, San Diego (ByteSized Falcons)
• Toby Johnson Middle School, Elk Grove (Anime Club)
• Troy High School, Fullerton (BletchleyPark and TroyTechSupport)
• Turlock High School (Turlock NJROTC)
• Ukiah High School (MAJORCats)
Jun 19, 2019
Mechanical engineering student Alexander Holthaus and Randy Coffman, of Adaptive Sports Center, stroll the harbor at Morro Bay. Click on the photo to see a gallery.
With the majestic Morro Rock providing a scenic backdrop, mechanical engineering senior Alexander Holthaus slowly drifts from shore on a stand-up paddleboard powered by a man in a wheelchair.
The man in the chair is not disabled, but the senior project he sponsored will be used to help several people who visit his Adaptive Sports Center in Shaver Lake.
“There’s a lot of interest from our spinal cord injury groups and our amputees to go out on a paddleboard rather than a kayak,” said Randy Coffman, executive director of the center, which provides year-round adaptive recreation in the Central Sierra Nevada.
Coffman was at the center, he said, when someone from Cal Poly’s College of Engineering visited and asked if he had any projects for seniors. “And I said, ‘I have a whole bunch of them.’”
Each fall, students are paired with senior projects they will work on the entire school year. This year, Coffman’s Paddleboard for All Persons was one of more than 40 projects presented to seniors in the Mechanical Engineering Department. A team of seniors took on the challenge, including Holthaus, Sean Yueh, Garrett Holmes and Garett Jones.
“I love projects that are outdoor-focused,” Holthaus said. “And I love the fact that our project is going to directly help someone.”
Not just one, though. A significant feature of the project is that it can be used by a number of people with different disabilities and levels of mobility – something that will come in handy at Adaptive Sports.
For Coffman’s customers, kayaking sometimes causes friction against their skin, leading to blisters. While there are currently adaptive paddleboards on the market, they often feature parts that are fixed onto the board – and they cost around $7,000 apiece.
“The expense of the commercial board has just gotten beyond the reach of most adaptive sports centers,” Coffman said.
The one designed at Cal Poly can be adjusted and modified for each user. Instead of drilling holes into a board and bolting a chair, which limits its usage and buoyancy, the students created a pontoon that attaches to a paddleboard with Velcro straps. A wheelchair or even a rail for standing can then be strapped to the pontoon.
“You could probably put a lawn chair on there and strap it down,” said mechanical engineering lecturer Sarah Harding, who advised the team.
The pontoon width itself is adjustable to match the balance and skill level of the users.
“Mostly it’s going to be amputee or paraplegic users,” Holthaus said. “That’s the primary customer base of the nonprofit. They’re working with a lot of veterans that have come back with combat injuries.”
The project posed several challenges to the students.
“There’s a lot of layers in this project,” Harding said.
Aside from machining, the students used Harding’s 80-year-old Singer sewing machine to piece together Velcro. George Leone, the retired manager of the Cal Poly aero hangar – and a longtime surfboard maker – helped with some of the composites.
“Making fiberglass was like nothing we’ve ever experienced before,” Holthaus said.
The students also created a ramp that wheelchair users can employ to get on the board.
“The ramp will make it so you don’t have to pick up wheelchair users and put them on the board,” Harding said.
Student creation will help wheelchair users enjoy paddleboarding.
Afterward, Coffman took it to Shaver Lake. There, Holthaus said, the student creation will help others enjoy the outdoors – and get some valuable upper body exercise.
“It’s a way to go out and experience something that’s difficult to do if you’re a wheelchair user.”
A few weeks later, Coffman said the center had already used the paddleboard in one of its programs, and it worked, "Perfectly."
Jun 18, 2019
Marco Zuniga was recently named Regional Student of the Year.
For detectives investigating a sex trafficking offense, one mistake can endanger the entire case. In virtual reality, however, those mistakes can be reversed while providing valuable lessons.
That is why Marco Zuniga is creating a virtual training simulator to assist police in combating the growing crime of sex trafficking.
On campus, Zuniga is a liberal arts and engineering studies senior. But, at the California Cybersecurity Institute (CCI), he is in charge of user experience, user interface and virtual reality design. In the Camp San Luis National Guard Base, the CCI has set up real-world simulations of sex trafficking operations, but Zuniga’s project seeks to replace that.
“It’s not always easy to bring law enforcement to us, or to hire actors, or to set the whole thing up every time,” Zuniga said. “So, I’m building a virtual reality version of that.”
Zuniga’s efforts in creating the virtual training simulator with the CCI has earned him the title of Cal Poly Student Employee of the Year and also the Regional Student Employee of the year.
The goal of the virtual training simulator is to instruct law enforcement on the kinds of evidence they should gather at the scene of a sex trafficking front. On top of that, it simultaneously teaches them how to search for the evidence in a safe way.
“It’s not like learning from a PowerPoint ー a picture on a slide,” Danielle Borrelli, who is the operations coordinator at CCI, which hosts its annual California Cyber Innovation Challenge from June 21-13. “When you actually put on the VR goggles, you enter an immersive environment where you can actually see and experience the environment.”
In addition to the virtual simulation, Zuniga is also designing the user interface and user experience for a mobile application that serves the same purpose. Both of these programs are being built through Amazon Web Services, an offshoot of Amazon that specializes in various digital services and partners with Cal Poly. He said his time spent with their virtual reality program, Amazon Sumerian, has given him the opportunity to become a lead tester for AWS.
“It’s such a new application, so there is a super small community that uses it. When I can’t figure something out, or I have a problem with it, there is no help site,” Zuniga said. ”There’s been a few times that I was talking to them about something I was trying to do, and they were like, ‘Whoa, we’ll put that in the application as soon as we can. We never even thought of that.’”
Since Zuniga was tackling the problem of sex trafficking for the first time while taking on the virtual reality project, Borrelli, who has been in the field for nine years, was empathetic of the challenges he had to overcome.
“It’s one of the most horrific crimes in the world today when you consider what the victims actually go through,” Borrelli said. “The real emotional toll is when you begin to understand the gravity of the situation. But, when you’re able to take the evidence and apply it to the situations and help others, it can be a very healing and empowering process.”
Despite the challenges, Zuniga has taken them in stride, according to Borrelli. That is why she nominated him for the Student Employee of the Year Award. Zuniga said this was a special honor for him as a first-generation college student.
“I’m extremely humbled and excited, I didn’t even expect it,” Zuniga said. “I didn’t even know I was being nominated until my bosses told me after that they did. I didn’t think my work was being appreciated that much, I thought I was just flying under the radar. They called me when I won and I was absolutely blown away.”
Zuniga said now he is looking toward his future as his time at Cal Poly is nearly over. After working closely with him, Borrelli said she has high expectations.
“He’s a great individual, and everyone who knows him, loves him,” Borrelli said. “He’s a really humble guy, he listens to your advice. He is very well-organized, he knows his limitations, but he works incredibly hard. His future endeavors are going to exceed his expectations.”
Jun 17, 2019
Mechanical Engineering students and twins Nathan and Matthew Carlson ride a side-by-side bike designed by Caroline Swanson called a Buddy Bike. Click on the photo to see a photo gallery of the bikes students created in ME 441.
Mechanical Engineering students enrolled in ME 441 — often referred to as the “bike building class” — study the geometry and physics of single track vehicles and then design and construct their own unique bicycles.
“Everyone is familiar with the behavior of regular bikes, but when you tweak the geometry of the frame, things become more unstable — and interesting,” said Professor Andrew Kean as he watched students ride other students’ bicycles around Engineering Plaza on the last day of class. “A little change in design makes a big difference in the math.”
Made from old bikes, new parts, carbon fiber and wood, the finished products covered a wide spectrum of designs, from a prone style where the rider lies face down about a foot from the ground to a towering “circle” bike that requires the rider to find a ladder or two strong friends to get into the seat.
“Fun class,” said mechanical engineering student Caroline Swanson as she pedaled her side-by-side “Buddy Bike” with Emily Hubbard. “Lot of work, but fun.”
Jun 12, 2019
After directing a bionic hand to give the “OK” sign, mechanical engineering student Austin Conrad took a deep breath, paused and let out a therapeutic, “WOO!”
With just 20 minutes before the recipient of that hand was set to arrive, pressure had mounted. But Conrad and the rest of the Hands for Julian team managed to complete the project in time to present 10-year-old Julian Reynoso with two prosthetic hands they had worked on the entire school year.
As this video shows, the students took on the challenge through the Quality of Life Plus club on the Cal Poly campus last fall. Less than a half year earlier, Julian had been badly burned in a suspected DUI crash, losing most of his fingers.
Despite the tragedy – Julian also lost his father and two siblings – the boy has persevered, even throwing out a pitch during a Dodgers game.
Hands for Julian has gone on to inspire others, through national and international publicity. But, most importantly, it has provided Julian with some of the tools he needs to enjoy being a kid again.