The 2010 competition, "Earth Saver: Autonomous Material Sorter," required participating teams to design, build and test an autonomous system capable of accurately sorting common recyclable materials into distinct waste containers."We spent about 150 hours in the design and construction of the sorter," said Andrew Walker, who worked with fellow students Bert Welch and Garret Stone on the project. "It was a learning experience for us to take control of the design process and produce a functional product, where almost none of our original ideas was used. We gained firsthand knowledge of how some things that seem best, in theory, are not practical for an efficient project."
The team's sorter worked by eliminating each material by its distinct physical properties.
"First, the glass, being the most dense, fell through plastic bristles we fashioned from a broom," Walker said. "Then the tin cans were removed by a rotating magnetic drum because they were the only ferrous materials. The plastic and aluminum containers were then separated by their size."
The group worked on its original design during the 2009 fall semester as a class project for Dr. Raju Mantena, professor of mechanical engineering. The three then began the assembly of the material sorter as their capstone project the following semester for Dr. Jagdish Sharma's senior design class. Their sorter was selected as the best senior design project for the class as well as for the entire school.
"In the fall semester, all senior mechanical engineering students are challenged in the ME 427 Kinematics class to work, in groups of three, on conceptual designs for the annual ASME Student Design Competition," Mantena said. "A faculty panel selects one or two groups that have the opportunity to build proof-of-concept prototypes in the following spring semester ME 438 Capstone Design Class and represent Ole Miss in the ASME Regional Student Conference held in March/April of each year. It is hard work but well worth the experience. All mechanical engineering students also get to go to the regional conference, to cheer our team and see how the students from other schools perform."
In the 2010 ASME competition, the UM team placed second in its district after the team from the South Dakota School for Mines and Technology. Walker said the UM team was named a finalist because about 30 teams, an unusually high number, competed in the district competition. Because of scheduling conflicts, Walker, Welch and Stone did not attend the competition finals, held Nov. 14 at the 2010 ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The other universities that made it to the competition finals were California State University at Fresno, Carnegie Mellon University, Grand Valley State University, McGill University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, the University of Alabama, the University of Tennessee and Western Kentucky University, as well as the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Yeditepe University in Turkey. Texas's LeTourneau University had two teams entered in the competition.