Another example of the real-world, project-based learning provided by Western Kentucky University's Department of Engineering was on display Friday morning.
Representatives of the engineering program and the Warren County Rescue Department were on hand at the Preston Health and Activities Center pool to watch WKU seniors Jack Wallace and Kory Liszt demonstrate their remotely operated submersible (R.O.S.).
Wallace and Liszt refurbished and altered the submersible's body as well as designed and built all electrical and mechanical systems including the power, control and video systems that operate the underwater device. The device operates on a 12-volt automobile battery.
The rescue department will use the device to aid in water rescue and recovery operations and will begin training its members soon, said Andy Tucker, department chief. "This equipment will be used not only in Warren County but in all of Kentucky," he said.
The electrical engineering students' device is the only known fully portable and independently powered remotely operated vehicle among others of similar size and capability, according to staff engineer Ron Rizzo. Similar devices of this class and capability cost $10,000 to $75,000; the students and support staff developed this device for $4,000.
"It's good to see the results of our work finally sitting in the water," said Liszt of Pleasanton, Calif.
As the device maneuvered in the water, Wallace noted that the project had plenty of other ups and downs in the past year as they solved the engineering problems.
"On paper, it would look really good, but when we'd put it together we'd have a problem," said Wallace of Springfield, Tenn. "But we finally got them solved."
"Going from paper to real life is a different experience," Liszt said.
Retired department head John Russell said that different experience is what sets WKU's engineering programs apart as students move from learning engineering concepts to the level of engineering practitioners by doing real-world, project-based work.
"A few years ago we conceived the idea of creating a department of engineering in the state of Kentucky that offered a choice to students that did not exist at that time," Russell said. "They have demonstrated that they can do the work of practitioners. This is proof that the concept we had in 1999 is real and viable and is important for the state of Kentucky."
As Wallace and Liszt prepare to graduate next May, the R.O.S. project will be a great benefit as they begin the search for full-time employment.
"The opportunity for students to put this on a resume is a pat on the back for what they have done," Rizzo said. "It gives them the confidence to go out and be engineers."
Tucker expressed his thanks and appreciation to WKU and the students for taking an idea of a device to assist in underwater searches and making it a reality. "They took what we expected and brought it up 10 or 20 fold. We couldn't imagine it would be this great," he said.
Dr. Bruce Kessler, assistant dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering, said the cutting-edge research conducted by undergraduate students "is the epitome of what we do in Ogden College and the Applied Research and Technology Program."
"Engineering work is about people not gadgets," said Dr. Walter Collett, assistant professor of electrical engineering. "This is a good example of a project that is about people. This is the type of project I'm enthusiastic about. It has an impact on the quality of life and may save someone's life."