Last spring, mechanical engineering professor Ramana
M. Pidaparti decided to shake up his senior design class. As usual
in the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis class,
Pidaparti split his students into groups to work on projects. Two
of those groups he watched especially closely: One was composed
of engineering students, the other engineering students and a wildcardan
art student. Pidaparti says he wanted to see the effect an art student's
input would have on the final design.
The assignment was to build a prototype exhibit that
would allow Indianapolis Zoo visitors to safely interact with the
zoo's recently acquired rhinos. A rhino is about 5,000
pounds, says Pidaparti, and the idea was to give people
a feeling for the power of the animal, without them having
to get into the pen.
Pidaparti's involvement with art began two years
ago when he asked Greg Hull, an assistant professor of sculpture
at the university, to speak to his design class. I thought
I'd be talking about the differences between [engineering and
artistic design], Hull recalls, but ended up talking
more about the similarities. The differences, he says, are
apparent more at the end: An engineer ultimately designs for a customer,
an artist for an audience.
The art student came into the brainstorming phase
of the design process and offered a different perspective. We
had been trying to get them [the engineering students] to draw from
their life experiences and broaden the range of possibilities,
Hull says. The art student helped them do this and improve the final
design, Pidaparti says.
A jury of faculty and industry guests agreed, giving
them the best design award for the spring 2003 semester at the university's
Mechanical Engineering Design Day. The president of the Indianapolis
Zoo was really impressed with their design, Pidaparti adds.
The group designed a rhino mask that simulated the
animal's ability to see in two different directions at the
same time. They also built a prototype rumbling bridge
that detects rhino movement with sensors and, using motors attached
to the bridge underside, transfers the vibrations, damped to a human-comfortable
level, to the bridge.
Based on the success of this group, Pidaparti says
he plans to include art students into future design projects.