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Design and Build at Home: Development of a Low-cost and Versatile Hardware Kit for a Remote First-year Mechanical Engineering Design Class

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Design Pedagogy

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Tania K. Morimoto University of California, San Diego Orcid 16x16

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Tania K. Morimoto received the B.S. degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, in 2012 and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University, Stanford, CA, in 2015 and 2017, respectively, all in mechanical engineering. She is currently an Assistant Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and an Assistant Professor of surgery with University of California, San Diego. Her research interests include robotics, haptics, and engineering education.

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He Liu

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Cristian H. Tharin


Carolyn L. Sandoval University of California, San Diego

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Dr. Sandoval is the Associate Director of the Teaching + Learning Commons and Director of the Commons Engaged Teaching Hub at the University of California, San Diego. She earned a PhD in Adult Education-Human Resource Development. Her research interests include adult learning and development, faculty development, qualitative methods of inquiry, and social justice education.

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Christopher John Cassidy University of California, San Diego


Huihui Qi University of California, San Diego

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Dr. Qi is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). She earned her Ph.D. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Dr. Qi’s teaching interests include Engineering Design, Solid Mechanics, Mechanical System Design, and Computer-Aided Design. Dr. Qi’s areas of interest and expertise include design sustainability, Life Cycle Assessment, decision making for optimal design, and Computer-Aided Design and Engineering Education. Prior to her position at UCSD, she was an Assistant Professor at Grand Valley State University.

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This work-in-progress paper will describe the development of a low-cost and versatile hardware kit designed to enable students to work at home on design projects in a first-year Mechanical Engineering design course at XX University. The standard in-person version of the course included lectures, which were taught in traditional lecture halls, and labs, which were conducted in the Design Lab. In this in-person environment, students could learn to use fabrication equipment, including hand tools, basic shop equipment, laser cutters, and 3D printers. The hands-on design projects were critical for enabling students to apply and master certain class concepts at a deeper level, as well as gain project management, communication, and teamwork skills. The remote teaching setting has restricted students from accessing the Design Lab and associated tools usually used for these projects.

There is therefore an urgent need to develop hardware kits that can be shipped to students’ homes to enable them to perform hands-on design projects and meet the same learning objectives as those created for the in-person version. The hardware kits must be versatile enough that the students can create different solutions for an open-ended design project, yet easy enough to use at home with only the supplied tools. To avoid an additional financial burden to students, the kits must be relatively low cost. Finally, the components need to be safe to operate within a small space in a home environment and relatively easy to remotely debug when students encounter problems.

This paper presents the final hardware kit content and associated design projects. The key features that make the kits low-cost and versatile will be discussed. We will also document the kit content development process for different functional modules, including energy sources, control methods, structural components, custom-manufactured parts, fasteners, and tools. We will present alternative components considered with the corresponding tests that were performed, and reasoning for the final parts selected. We will also discuss the challenges encountered during the kit content development and logistics management, including part sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, and shipping, and we will provide suggestions to future developers.

We will assess the effectiveness of the hardware kits to facilitate students’ design activities from multiple sources, including student feedback and instructional team observation and feedback. We will evaluate the contents of the kit, including which materials and tools were the most versus the least useful, as well as which were the easiest versus the most difficult to work with. We will also evaluate the effectiveness of the design project, including assessing the value of the in-home fabrication and building activities, as well as the successes and challenges of remote teamwork. Although the hardware kit described in this paper was motivated by the remote teaching forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, it can also be used for design courses that are intended to be online.

Morimoto, T. K., & Liu, H., & Tharin, C. H., & Sandoval, C. L., & Cassidy, C. J., & Qi, H. (2021, July), Design and Build at Home: Development of a Low-cost and Versatile Hardware Kit for a Remote First-year Mechanical Engineering Design Class Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36903

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