Friday, December 18, 2009

The Experience!!!!

I honestly had a blast doing this project. Though, I will admit, I have never been so stressed out and frustrated in my entire life! But I loved all of my group members and we worked together pretty well. We did have some issues though, especially with communication. I was sick twice and I would send out and email asking the group to fill me in on what I missed and etc. Well, eventually one of them would get back to me, and even then stuff still was left out and the entire group never seemed to be on the same page with the little details. However, throughout everything, everyone got what they needed to done and they did a great job at it! And even though it was a very long two last days, I had fun building the project, looking back on it. I became close to some of my group members and it was also to see our be built and to actually do it myself, it was an amazing feeling when it was done! I don't think I have ever felt that accomplished in any of my other classes as I have finishing this project. I also learned great skills when it comes to interacting with different majors and I learned that I need to think of ways to word things to make sure everyone can follow me. Team management was also a great skill that I can walk away from this project with. I was the one that always sent out the team emails, coordinated meeting times, kept the budget, and worked on the papers (though that was more mandatory on my side!). It was a great experience and I hope the next class will have an even better time with it. Though I would suggest that the class has grades for prototyping or some way to make sure that they actually build things right away. This is because our group, though we had a ton of great ideas, we were a lot of talk and computer prototyping and not a lot of building and testing action was done. Not that computer prototyping is bad, but I especially learned that building is designing a concept and adjusting the project. It was very hard to prototype because of the fact that the project was CONSTANTLY changing but we really needed to build things sooner than we did. The other thing I wish we all had done was document the entire process more thoroughly using pictures. That was the one thing my group was not the greatest at, and I think it harmed our final paper and presentation. But, I know that we all worked very hard on our project and I am very proud of my teammates!

Testing, Building, and Final Project!

So, over the weeks we also tested our system and ideas and built them. Below are images of our prototyping and of me putting tubing into IV bags using a blow dryer and pliers. I put tubing in about 90 IV bags and it took me about 3 hours or so, it was a pain in the butt!

The images below are images of the final project itself. It turned out pretty much exactly how we imaged it would! However, sadly the algae did not glow as brightly as it should have due to the fact that we had transferred it to the IV bags not many hours before it was due. Also, the conditions for the algae were not great and they were hard to control in the gallery so that didn't help. Then, of course, the one major calculation that me and my other engineer had to do is make sure that the motors worked to push the acrylic and even though we thought we were making conservative calculations... we were off! The motors did not have enough torque to push the acrylic pieces!!! NO!!! O well we did try and the motors worked and the sensors worked, just not to push the pieces. But oh well, the hours we put building this thing, though FRUSTRATING as hell was a blast!

Almost there!

Along with the concept change, the form of the structure changed as well. Instead of building a wall of all equal containers buy hand, we decided that we have more money than time, so we started looking into buying containers. So, we actually decided that we were going to use iv bags for containers instead of making the boxes. The iv bags were perfect because they were already sterile, water tight, and they allowed for tubing to be easily connected to each bag. So the form changed around the iv bag idea. We wanted to protect the algae from getting over agitated by humans hitting it directly, so we wanted to build an acrylic structure to protect it. The form was designed by the architects, and it was meant to look alien like and also have a wave type form. The original design was done so that the bags would be hung off of metal frame work (think like a checker board type look with steel piping) and the acrylic would go around the bags. The bags would then be connected by tubing that would allow air and the algae to travel to and from each bag. The tubing would be rapped around the structure and go in and out, making the structure kind of like an organ with the tubing being veins. A computer image of this is shown below, my teammate David made this.
However, this idea had many projects in one, so we decided to just focus on the algae and we redid the structure. We kept the same acrylic pattern and structure (with algae bags still in the middle of the acrylic) but we had the pieces hang just from the top of a steel pole so that they would swing freely in and out of the plane of the structure. The structure itself is now hanging from a steel pole which is supported by an I beam in the ceiling. Metal cable will travel through the steel pole then go through a bottom steel pole then will be bolted to the floor for support. Then it was decided that, in order to make the algae glow do to human agitation, a motor would be placed below each acrylic piece with a acrylic "finger" so that when the motor was activated the finger would spin and hit the acrylic pieces causing it to swing in and out of the project plane. This will cause the algae to agitate and glow. The motors will be connected by infrared censors that will turn on the motors anytime a person walks by. The motors will work so that the acyclic pieces will be hit one by one and will create a wave within the structure. Below is another computer image created by David that was for our final structure.

Slight change of plans

After researching algae farms in more detail, the decision was made that are project could not actually be an algae farm because the amount of algae needed to produce usable biofuel is an extremely large amount. This amount is much larger than a 8x9 foot algae farm could produce, seeing as an actual algae farm was built in Texas by an Arizona company called PetroSun Biofuels, contains 1,100 acre network of saltwater ponds with an additional 20 arces dedicated to research and development of the biofuel itself. So, in order to adapt our project to this change we decided to make the focus of the entire project to be an off the grid light source, instead of both biofuel and a light source. So, to do this we really needed to figure out exactly how the algae worked. After some research and Allison's experience playing algae mom, we figured out and understood how the algae worked. This algae are unicellular algae that run on a biological clock that splits the day into 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of night. During the 12 day light hours, the algae produce oxygen and sugars using photosynthesis, meaning they do not have to be fed. During the 12 night hours, the cells produce chemicals (which are connected to the day time photosynthesis) that will cause the luminescent reaction. The reaction will occur whenever the algae are agitated and it will give off a soft light blue light. Changes in the biological clock can be made by training the algae to think that different chunks of the day are sunlight and night hours. This can be done using ordinary lights and every day moving when the algae starts it’s day and night cycle by one hour. For our final project, we decided to do this training so that the algae’s day cycle occurs between 9am and 9pm, so that the project can be seen glowing during the daytime presentation. However, in real world applications, the algae’s biological clock would run according to sunrise/set like normal so that it will glow in the dark and can be used for light. The algae need to be kept at a warm temperature, between 50 and 70°F, and need to be kept in a salt water conditions. Our project also changed in the fact that we were know longer going to use solar panels to power our air pumps and any other interaction systems. We found out that our project was going to be held in a potentially windowless gallery and sense the focus of our project was the algae and not the solar panels, we decided to remove them from the project. Also, we decided that the algae would be agitated using human interaction using an arduino board and sensors, however the way was not 100% known yet. The image below is an image of the algae actually glowing.
The next image is of an actual algae cell.

Algae Farm

After further research, we realized that using algae in our project as actual biofuel was never going to work, the technology does not exist in a truly usable form yet to pull this off. So, even though this first plan was not feasible for our project, we still decided we wanted to work with algae and have our project be heliotropic in the sense that the algae goes through photosynthesis, thus running off of the sunlight. So, we decided that if we couldn't actually use algae for biofuel, we could try to bring the idea of biofuels out to the public. To do this, we actually wanted to have a visually pleasing array set up that could grow two specific strands of algae, one used to make biofuel and one type that was bioluminescent (Pyrocystis Fusiformis), or a algae farm. This array would be put on the sides of buildings so that people could see it and interact with it and learn about biofuels. The array was inspired by Steve Pikes, an architect that designed an architectural array that had containers of bacteria and mold growing in the array. We took that idea but replaced it with algae so that during the day the algae will grow and people can interact with it and at night the bioluminescent algae would glow and act as an off the grid light source. The algae would only glow, however, when it was agitated so it was going to be worked out so that people could interact with this algae farm and cause the algae to glow. Both types of algae will be able to be harvested so that the containers can be kept clean and so that the algae can be used for fuel and for light. The figure below is an example of a biofuel/bioalgae farm that is being grown in the Venice cannals right now.
This next image if a conceptual image of our project idea. The algae would be mixed randomly in the array, some containers with the biofuel algae and some with the bioluminescent algae. In the image, the algae containers are the larger blue squares. The smaller black squares were solar panels that we were going to use to power the air pumps needed to keep the algae alive.
The last image is a 3D rendering of the project as if it was glowing at night.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Introducing the Algae Powered Robot!!!!!!

The next meeting, my group started from scratch and redid our goals and just started throwing out ideas without turning any down. The first decision that was made (with me being VERY reluctant to the idea, but I had no real argument to fight it so whatever) was that our group wanted to use solar energy in a more natural way and not using solar cells to convert it into electricity. What this meant was, we wanted to use algae in our project.... it sounds very bold I know and that's why I was very skeptically at first. Especially because we were talking about using it as a biofuel source for our project idea, which was through a crazy chain of events, a robot. I have pictures of our board when we were brainstorming below
The last image was a concept drawing of how we could do this/build this robot. The next one below is a concept drawing of how we could have taken an hydrogen fuel engine from a toy car engine that already had this technology built into it. We were hoping we could adapt it into our robot to make it hydrogen fueled from the algae.

The next two pictures are concept drawings that were done by my team members.

I loved the concept and everything, but of course (this is VERY understandable) the idea got shot down... shocking! :) Then of course, sense all of the groups projects were not what they were looking for, the professors sent out and email re-establishing what the project was and what they were looking for. So once again our group was back to square one.

Final Project: Group 3 and our first idea

So of course, I failed once again to stay updated with my blogs. Its hard to catch up when your sick and other work becomes top priority! But, I will start from the beginning for the final project description. I really liked all of my group members from day one, even though one of them had made a joke to the entire class about switching out of groups, that made me a little nervous. But, when we were discussing the project, we were all pretty much on the same page, we wanted to build something that would help people. Though my group really wanted to do it in a urban setting, which was not my thing, and it had to incorporate spacial in a new and different way (for lack of a better explanation, maybe be incorporated into a already existing structure or space, I am still not 100% on the original goal there!). The first day that we met, we didn't actually conclude on what we were going to do, but (I cant remember exactly WHY we decided this) we did decide we wanted to work with water and do some sort of water purification. Now, at the time this seemed like a great idea! And we wanted to do it on really polluted rivers, like in Chicago or Detroit or etc. (though I am actually not 100% sure how bad they are, but the idea was to work somewhere close to home). The next meeting we actually designed a system (conceptually) to put at the edge of a park area and have it pull water out of the river running through Ann Arbor. This system was going to be have natural materials to try to filter the river water into drinking water and it was going to be clear so that it could also be used as a learning tool for people. It was also going to be interactive because it was going to allow people to purify their own drinking water by pushing buttons, or interacting with a light game some how, or many other crazy ways that we were thinking of. And this was going to be done in a decent size spacial array so that people could walk through it and see other people and so on and so forth (as you can tell, now that I look back on the idea, its pretty ridiculous!). And we were going to keep solar energy and heliotropism in the picture by having all of the extras be powered by solar panels and by potentially having algae in the filtration system (as you will find out algae concepts started early in this group, if I am remembering correctly). Of course, when we pitched this idea to the class and the professors, lets just say the idea didn't go over very well. But none of the other groups really had anything feasible to show the professors, so we decided to give it another shot, and actually incorporating heliotropism, the arduino boards, and the digital media that we learned how to use. This, of course, was highly suggested by the professors! So, it was back to the drawing board for group 3.