Engineering students take top honors in senior design competition by creating safety device for weightlifters

June 15, 2007

College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean Subrata Sengupta (left) discussed the "Autospot" model with recent graduate Glenn MacRae, who was representing his senior design project team, at Technology Day on June 6.

DEARBORN / June 15, 2007---A tragic weight-lifting accident inspired a team of engineering students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn to create an award-winning safety device for spotter-free weightlifters.

Four mechanical engineering students, under the direction of faculty advisor Prof. Taehyun Shim, have designed a bench-press safety device that assists free-weight lifters when a spotter is unavailable or is incapable of lifting the weights off the chest in the case of an emergency. The project took top honors in UM-Dearborn’s College of Engineering and Computer Science's annual senior design competition this year.

The “AutoSpot” project--created by students Amy Crandall, Charles Kovelle, Glenn MacRae and Kristyna Salamey--grew out of a real-life weight-lifting tragedy.

“One of our group members knew someone who died doing this,” according to MacRae. “So we said, ‘Let’s do something to help other people who free weight alone.’”

Shim said he wasn’t surprised the group won the competition, because the team had terrific chemistry and supported each other throughout the project.

“They are a very dedicated group,” Shim said. “They all worked very hard. I’m so proud of them.”

The “AutoSpot” project called on the students to incorporate every subject they’ve ever learned since freshman year, “except for chemistry, maybe,” according to MacRae, who presented the project on behalf of his team at the campus’s annual Technology Day showcase on June 6.

“It was a challenge,” he added.

The students set out to offer the same safety advantages as guided machines currently on the market, but without restricting the weightlifter’s free range of motion and balance.

The team also hoped to make a product that would fit the average home weight bench at an affordable price, along with additional safety and assist features not found in traditional lifting machines.

“There are so many different ways to approach the design of a project like this,” said MacRae, who graduated from UM-Dearborn in April. “The biggest challenge was deciding on what design to use and go with it.”

The team decided on a counterweight design incorporating a block and tackle system, both for its simplicity and its ability to utilize unused weights while bench-pressing. Other systems implemented in the design included a base structure composed of Unistrut members; a dynamically guided lifting arm; a counterweight pin release using mechanical advantage; and a microprocessor designed to activate the pin release. Student Vimlesh Shukla helped the team with the microprocessor.

Fifteen weeks later, the group had a working AutoSpot model and wowed judges at the senior design competition.

“I felt this project was going to be the winner,” according to Elsayed Orady, professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering. “This is not only because of the humanitarian idea for saving lives, but also because of the ability of mechanical engineering students to carry out such a complex project that needs the basic knowledge of electrical engineering.”

“We were so lucky to have the group that we did with our talents,” MacRae said. “We just kept clicking.”

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CONTACT: Jennifer Sroka
PHONE: 313-593-5644
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