College project WTF

My sister is studying Bioengineering at the University of Michigan. She was showing me her group project. As a UM engineering grad I could not believe my eyes. One big WTF. Here’s the whole story:

The goal of the project is to develop a portable ultrasound machine that can be used in remote parts of the world – Africa, Amazon forest, rural India – you get the idea. The project is founded by on of the profs, and he wants the machine to be battery powered and as light as possible. Although my sister is a freaking genius, no one in her group is listening to her. The group tried to be too cool and use solar panels and was unwilling to consider alternative power sources.

Light lithium ion battery they spent most of their cash on is very light and portable. It holds charge for a long time. But… you cannot use it while it’s charging. They totally messed up the connections too. So when the machine is recharging (takes “only” 7 hours), it cannot be used. Even if you plug it into the wall socket, the way everything is wired you just cannot use it. WTF? Imagine not being able to talk on your cell when it’s being charged. A complete nonsense.

Solar panels don’t produce that much juice. You need many of them, which makes you sacrifice the portability. Then you need 7+ hours of constant sun to recharge the battery (remember you can’t use the device while it’s charging). What if you want to recharge at night? What if sun is not visible? What if it rains? Instead of the panels my sis wanted to use a crank, or a system of pedals. Throw in a large capacitor, and you can use this any time. Even without the battery. The group’s argument against it? You’d have to provide food for the operator, because he or she would get tired when cranking/pedaling. I’d rather have that and be able to use the machine in any weather and at any time. Sometimes too much technology isn’t good, and old fashion solutions seem most logical.

It’s far too late to implement any of our suggestions. Let’s hope that they get at least a decent grade for the effort… I guess you can’t send a biomed engineer to do electrical engineer’s job.