Vignesh Bhaskaran

Self Portrait
Image: Self Portrait

I am currently a Research Assistant in the Optimal Design Laboratory at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, working with Professor Panos Papalambros on exciting ways to learn about and execute the product design process.

I received my M.S.E in Mechanical Engineering from U.Mich in Dec. 2017, specializing in Design. During my masters I worked on the design of a Solar Car, Optimization problems associated with modular UAV systems and on the teaching and learning aspects of product design.

Prior to joining my masters program I worked on concept development and deployment of an Off-Grid Cold-Storage intended for use by marginal farmers in Chennai, India. This was an effort to apply core engineering skills gained in my bachelors degree in mechanical engineering and also engage with farmers in my community with whom I grew up.

My favorite thing to do so is to participate in making interesting objects. I am usually always working on team projects I also love to interact with children and conduct/participate in workshops on engineering and product design with children such as Michigan Xplore Engineering. My second favorite thing to do is to ask questions. This is a habit carefully formed with help from my physics professor Ravi Shankar who would always lead a co-learning session with the requirement of that the student ask questions before receiving answers. It follows strongly from the way Richard Feynman would approach learning.

My interest in design arises from principles in physics, mathematical optimization, product engineering and learning sciences. Some physical objects I have made and worked with are detailed below. I also enjoy learning with others and teaching about making products.

For questions and challenges you may have for me please use the following email link:

Solar Car

What is the simplest form which when excited by photons can traverse terrestrial distances of continental proportions?

Novums, The University of Michigan Solar car.
Image: Novum, the University of Michgan Solar car. Photo Credit: Evan Dougherty/Assistant Multimedia Editor - University of Michigan - CoE

This is the University of Michigan Solar Car Team. We race a car that runs on solar radiation alone, from the north to the south of Australia (Bridgestone World Solar Challenge) and from east to west of the continental United States (American Solar Challenge) alternating years between the two races.

Australian route map



Unites States of America Route Map
Image: Australian route map and United States route map for solar challenges

Aerodynamics

Around 80% of all power consumption for the Solar car comes from aerodynamic drag losses. While we want the best aerodynamic performance we also want to ensure optimal solar array performance from incident solar radiation, ensure stability of the car in a straight line and also preserve driver safety. We want to build the fastest car possible for the current technology and have scope for incorporating radical new technologies in the future, while remaining true to our goals of building a safe car.

See the video below on a summary of the design process and earlier versions of the car. Video made as a sponsor video by Siemens.



Using automated scripts to reduce simulation run time and approximations for aerodynamic performance, we design the external shape. We are able to run 2-3x higher number of simulations than any previous year. We then use genetic algorithms to determine optimal geometry of the car. This allows for faster exploration and quick iterations with mechanical, composites and the solar array team.
We built the car with no millimeters to spare between the driver and the safety zone in the roll cage. One millimeter has a significant impact on performance! The car is built on a fundamental philosophy: "What would a solar car look like with only the driver and as little car as possible?"

While this design might have placed second at the solar challenge contests, it certainly has the potential to be the fastest solar powered car in the world. In subsequent project cycles we will explore further concepts related to generative designs and associated additive manufacturing techniques. Hush hush! Technical details available on request.

Prototyping & Manufacturing

Shown below are some of the stages in making the car in addition to scale models and wind tunnel testing, courtesy of the University of Michigan Solar Car team.

Mock car prototype
Image: Mock car to test functionality of mechanical systems and estimate weight/CG
Foam Plugs used to create moulds for the car. Canopy looks like an elongated helmet
Image: Machined foam plugs in the shape of the car. This is the canopy which is for scale the shape of an elongated helmet

Process pioneered by John Barnard in the use of plugs and moulds to make carbon fiber monocoque chassis and body panels to make formula 1 cars in the late 70s/early 80s. We use an evolution of this process with aluminium core as stiffening/lightweighting material to make a fully composite body and chassis (including roll cage). We use the CAD models to machine foam plugs which are then polished and waxed to a smooth shine. We then lay carbon weaves and form the moulds in the process shown below. We repeat the above process with moulds instead of plugs to make the final car. More technical information on manufacturing available on request.



Testing for the solar car happens throughout the design process and includes full length races prior to the actual race.

Car being prepared for wind tunnel testing
Image: Car being prepared for wind tunnel testing

Of course the best part of making such technical marvels is to be able to share the excitement with an audience such as the one at the North Aerical International Auto Show (NAIAS), on the road and also at schools.

Adelaide parade of solar cars
Image: Adelaide parade of solar cars with the team's best finish ever at World no.2. Next up, the No.1 spot
image of child in solar car while visiting a school
Image: Neat car for school runs

Aerial Vehicles

Proximal flight in 3-D space

Autonomous Drones achieve something magical, which is the ability to maintain and navigate in proximity to objects with complex geometries such as cityscapes and wind turbine farms like a humming bird feeding from a flower. The following is a list of Design Build and test experiments to understand how these drones and sensor architectures function and includes determination of criteria that is then used to model and simulate optimal designs and operation of such systems.

Modular architecture prototype
Image: Modular architecture prototype

The above drone is intended for long and stable flight with vision systems mounted on top and a battery case at the bottom for better Center of Gravity to balance the top heavy sensor architecture. This was developed to determine input parameters in a study on modular system architecture. The vision systems are used for indoor scanning in earthquake zones with the drone designed to fly on three opposing rotors at any time. Some inputs determined were weight of mechanisms required for modular functionality and complexity (DFMEA), flight time and stability from accelerometer measurements

Shown here is a Laser based detection and ranging system.
Image: Modular architecture prototype, sensor and controller array. Shown here is a Laser based detection and ranging system.
data used to construct virtual indoor maps
Image: Point cloud data used later to build information on real cartographic map data
 very fast hexacopter
Image: Experiments in drones for speed and maneuverability

The smaller drone above, called a mini drone, is capable of flight at 60+mph and is loud due to high pitch and decibel levels. The purpose is to experiment in control algorithms for extremities in the acceleration profile such as jounce, jerk, snap , crackle and pop. The drone has relatively low amplitude of modal/ harmonic oscillations after a certain point due to high the rotor speeds. This drone is of higher cost in the system and low service life due to limitations in battery heat and rotor bearing wear.

A micro sized drone at around 83mm diagonally
Image: Micro sized drone at 82 mm diagonally

This micro drone is extremely high pitched in sound but quiet like a mosquito. It is called "mosquito"! You can annoy colleagues by flying this around their heads with the appropriate propeller guards. You could also use this for extreme proximity applications. A PCB architecture to store/record 1080p HD video and use sub-sampled video feed for First Person View Flight (FPV, where the operator can piggy back on the drone) and vision based control algorithms is being developed. With advances in battery tech we are currently seeing about 2 minutes of flight time. These little drones are exempt from FAA pilots license requirements as they are sub 150 grams. Here is an example of extreme proximity

Learning

How best can we learn about making physical objects?

Creating memorable and positive learning experiences enhances future engagement with what is learnt. The following is a course and it's topics that I have helped learn and teach with students at the University of Michigan.

Analytical Product Design Course

World Cloud of concepts explored in the Analytical Product Design Course.
Image: Word-Cloud of concepts explored in APD

Teams themselves define their design problem and build products through a self-selected and self-organized design process. This course is a step away from a standard Design, Build and Test course. Students make design decisions based on quantitative analysis using techniques such as Conjoint, Kansei and Cash Flow Analysis in addition to Functional Validation used in an engineering product design course.
More information can be found on the course website: External Link

Sketching

Augmenting Sketches with physical forms
Image: Augmenting sketches with physical forms
Sketchbook made for participants of a design course
Image: Sketchbook made for participants of the design course

A sketchbook can help facilitate collection of existing objects and perceptions and remix with ideas. Some methods for sketching are to annotate, create picture-collages, create doodles and draw process diagrams and storyboards.

We explore alternate methods of sketching in a directed sketch session where ideas are communicated by a 'passive' member to a member who 'actively' draws the sketch. Another method is the process of sketching the environment or situation while wire-framing the actual product.

The idea for the sketchbooks and resources on how to use sketching is to explore sketching to an extent that it remains a familiar aspect of the design process at all stages. The key motivation is the idea of proactive serendipity wherein consistent immersion in the design process facilitates creation of new ideas.

Prototyping and Machine Shop

Prototype Examples from the product design course
Image: Prototype examples from the product design course.

An abundance of resources at the University of Michigan introduces complexity. The idea is to connect team members to the wealth of resources by providing non-repetitive training and guidance.

The course now includes a summary of machining and 3-D Printing in addition to guides on how to design objects to prototype using these methods. We encourage students to explore concepts in sketching but to build out prototypes before making decisions. The beta prototype is required for functional verification of chosen final concepts. Teams also work on concept videos/demo reels to be shown during a design expo at the end of the semester.

Prototyping follows from a need for Slow Design where design teams make decisions by being fully considerate of what pathways/outcomes they did or did not chose to proceed with, ensuring focus for the product within teams.
Additional examples from the course is listed here.
Fundamental to this experience is how teams and their individual members interact with each other in different settings. Activities are introduced to help teams manage expectations and set goals on how to use the resources.

Computational Design

Image:  Source Autodesk DreamSketch Figure 1: We bring the power of generative design in the early stages of design exploration with freeform 3D sketches. (a) The user defines a problem definition by roughly sketching a dragon-shaped lamp holder, the anchor to the wall, and a load value (redarrow). (b) The user then defines a design variable (red) and a constraint (green) to specify a range of possible spatial configurations. (c) The design space of the resulting problem definition is specified, with a range of possibilities. (d-e) Our system then generates optimal solutions for the entire design space using topology optimization, along with their performance data. The user navigates through the results by directly manipulating the objects.
Image:  Source Autodesk DreamSketch Figure 1: We bring the power of generative design in the early stages of design exploration with freeform 3D sketches. (a) The user defines a problem definition by roughly sketching a dragon-shaped lamp holder, the anchor to the wall, and a load value (redarrow). (b) The user then defines a design variable (red) and a constraint (green) to specify a range of possible spatial configurations. (c) The design space of the resulting problem definition is specified, with a range of possibilities. (d-e) Our system then generates optimal solutions for the entire design space using topology optimization, along with their performance data. The user navigates through the results by directly manipulating the objects.

Computation has its application predominantly in optimization and functional validation. Validation includes application of numerical analysis in areas such as fluid flow and thermodynamic simulations in addition to biological models of cell growth etc.

Using algorithms has existed in generation of set type of patterns and repetitive geometries using grasshopper and Rhino Software (predominantly in the architectural field). Topology optimization exists in exploring optimal forms for structural/mechanical load bearing components. Software such as HyperWorks have generative modelling of solid forms given a set of physical constraints.

While it is possible to explore the design space using parametric CAD, a more user friendly application is being depicted that targets the front end design process. The use of sketching and generating shapes in a sketch based environment for exploration of the design space is being explored by Autodesk. In the future we will see many more such intersections of computationally exploring the design space especially with development of exciting new hardware by Nvidia capable of real time ray-tracing.

Students have tutorials and specific workflows to explore generative design in the course and are also trained in sketching for this very reason: ease of exploring the design space and augmenting this process with computers.

Other

This is a collection of images of other internships/ course projects or personal projects. More information and reports can be made available on request.

To be added: Compliant Mechanics for watchmaking, Testing of firing properties in furnace for ceramic glazes and testing for lead content using X-ray fluroscopy, AR application to build colors on a pixel by pixel basis onto a 3d object to facilitate creation of community art, Design of a workshop to facilitate programming.

ColdStorage Unit

This is a project that is born out of a need to begin the process of reducing waste from heat induced spoilage at the source by storing farm produce in suitable temperatures. The additional benefit to reducing food waste is to increase productivity and livelihood for farmers. The unit below is capable of 15 tonnes of food store at up-to 4 degrees Celsius using solar energy (Photo voltaic) system.

Building a foundation-less cold storage unit. The pictures below are completed unites interior and exterior.
Image: Building a foundation-less cold storage unit. The pictures above are completed unites interior and exterior.
Schematic of energy flow diagram
Image: Schematic of Energy Flow Diagram for cooling the system
Details on insulating material
Image: Details of Insulating material

Technical analysis on the system and a feasibility study was published as a paper (available on request). The work from the project is now being used in horticultural industry to pilot test the use of aggregation of multiple such units on a single medium sized farm. CFD analysis is also being done to improve airflow in small scale refrigeration units. More traditional solutions of using air-flow to chill water reservoirs that will be used to cool the walls of the storage unit (to be used in place of the PV system) are being explored.

Device for Removal of Sub-cutaneous Contraceptive Implants

Sub-Cutaneous (under the skin) implants are more cost effective than IUDs (Intra Uterine Devices) and less invasive but face several challenges in insertion and removal of the implant. A low cost device to assist in the teasing of scar tissue that surrounds the implant and makes it difficult for removal is required. This project involved multiple prototyping stages and usability testing and testing in clinical settings at the University of Michigan and testing in Ghana in collaboration with the University of Ghana.

Cartoon depicting the location of contraceptive implants in the arm
Image: Cartoon depicting the location of contraceptive implants in the arm
Prototype of device to stabilize the area surrounding the implant and assist in removal
Image: Prototype of device to stabilize the area surrounding the implant and assist in removal
Clinical Testing and Observations conducted in Ghana (Accra & Kumasi)
Image: Clinical Testing and Observations conducted in Ghana (Accra & Kumasi)
Prelimnary Usability testing conducted in Ann arbor
Image: Preliminary Usability Testing conducted in Ann Arbor.

Design of Jigs and Fixtures for Welding assembly of Railway Coaches

Fixture to enable better ergonomics for welders on shop floor and to enable quick adjustment for coaches of varying widths. Use of existing pneumatic reservoirs at the Integral Coach factory in order to streamline energy flow in the system. Use of hydraulic systems for setting of camber (curved structures created to compensate for deformation and load bearing) in the coaches.

Concept drawings of Railway coach during Assembly welding
Image: Concept drawings of Railway coach during Assembly welding

Design and Manufacture of Sprocket for Live Axle of Go-Kart

This was a fun exploration in machining/ gear hobbing sprockets for live axles using carbide steel tool tips for Go-Karts at a track.

Rear Axle of Go-Kart with Sprocket attachment and brake disk
Image: Rear Axle of Go-Kart with Sprocket attachment and brake disk

Exploring Computer Hardware/Software

In addition to software package experiments in photogrammetry, rending, video stabilization and timelapses/hyperlapses I enjoy fixing up computers for friends and family. This involves BIOS, drivers and OS updates. I also have working knowledge on hardware architecture and conduct minor solder repairs and replacements (nothing too fancy!) . I also love to make purchase recommendations for systems with satisfaction guarantees based on individual persons software requirements. So far have purchased around 10-12 laptops for others. I also do have experience building websites, hosting serves, Linux distros. Mostly I enjoy playing low bit browser games and building code in the arduino IDE. Next steps are exploring Swift Playgrounds and building scratch apps.


Fan Connector on Imac 2007
Hard Drive connector on 2007 Imac
Image: Replacing fan and Hard drive to ssd on 2007 iMac

Gliders and Model Aircraft

This is what got me into Aerodynamics and understanding flight physics. These are multiple stages over a 5 year period. Each of these planes and many more in between are so different from each other that learning to make and test pilot these planes was ridiculously fun.

Styrofoam based Slow flyer
Image: Styrofoam based Slow flyer
Foam board (Adams Readi-board)based Glider
Image: Foam board (Adams Readi-board)based Glider
Acrobatic Balsa wood plane with Ailerons
Image: Acrobatic Balsa wood plane with Ailerons
Under-Cambered Wing structure on slow balsa plane
Image: Under-Cambered Wing structure on slow balsa plane

Vintage Lenses and Photography

I love reading about film making and editing (Book: In the blink of an eye). I love to repair lenses in addition to watches which will be added as I learn watchmaking at some point in the future as I acquire tools. I use a Sony camera just because of the lowest Flange distance (Distance between the mounting point of the lens and the sensor inside the camera) of 18mm which is lower than any vintage lens's flange distance. This means that any lens made in human history can be adapted to this camera using the appropriate mounting mechanism and adapter height to compensate for the lower flange distance. My favorite lens is the 8mm Fisheye lens with Color filers i.e the Nikon lens used to make HAL 9000 in Kubrick's 2001 (shown below).

Probably my favorite thing on earth right now is the little steel ball that allows the color filers inside the Stanley Kubrick Lens to change color with a mechanical thunk.
Image: Probably my favorite thing on earth right now is the little steel ball in the Nikon 8mm Fisheye lens that allows changing of a color filter with a mechanical click
he color filter in the lens produces the Red tint of menace from HAL as in the movie. HAL also sees in red!
Image: The color filter in the lens produces the Red tint of menace from HAL as in the movie. HAL also sees in red!