Research News

Design Day features bulletproof vest that calls for backup, bridge for Hondurans in need

A bulletproof vest that calls for backup when injured officers can’t emerged as one of the School of Engineering’s annual Design Day’s most fascinating offerings, holding promise to move from undergraduate project to life-saving purchase.

The science-fair-meets-the-Consumer-Electronics-Show type of event features 70 teams of graduating seniors standing by to demonstrate their engineering answers to real-life challenges. Corporate and nonprofit sponsors propose the problems, advise the teams throughout the academic year and own the intellectual property at the end of it.

The special vest was the brainchild of GPS-911, a partnership of current and former law enforcement officers who want to keep their colleagues safer. They applauded the students’ creation, called HERMES – Health Evaluation and Real-time Monitoring-based Emergency Signaling.

Company partner and former New York Police Department officer Jim Shepherd said he carried out the grim task of finding fellow officers’ bodies in the Twin Towers wreckage after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In many cases, their ballistic vests, their names printed neatly inside, were the only identifying feature that survived the collapse.

The HERMES vest monitors the wearer’s heartbeat and breathing and calls for backup when it senses an officer has been shot or fallen on the ground. Sensors indicate the presence of blood, as opposed to sweat or other liquid, by detecting blood sugar.

“Our integration algorithm continuously reads the sensor measurements from the Arduino board and compares it against pre-determined threshold values that we think would define an emergency,” said team member Kathryn Snyder, an electrical engineering major. “Once that threshold has been met, an alert text message is sent to a specified phone number. Data is also transmitted whether or not the threshold is met to a website where you can see the live graphs of the officer.”

Bridge will save four-hour walk

Paloma Mendoza, president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at Vanderbilt, and teammates Jake Van Geffen and Luke Van de Vate, all civil engineering seniors, stood by one of Design Day’s most attention-grabbing entries. They built a short model of a pedestrian bridge that will be constructed across the Rio Grande in San Esteban, Honduras, by volunteers later this year.

The 180-foot-long pedestrian bridge needed to be long-lasting as well as sustainable. The team decided a suspension bridge with wooden planks would be the most affordable while best addressing the site and the community’s needs. Unlike a steel bridge, materials for the pedestrian suspension crossing are readily available and don’t need to be imported. Additionally, should a board loosen or fall off, local residents can make repairs.

“The river essentially becomes impassable during the rainy season, so we wanted to have a safe way across,” Mendoza said. “Otherwise, you will have to go around — four hours, almost if they want to cross a bridge.”

A toy car all can enjoy

Another team stood nearby with a remarkable kid-sized toy car, outfitted for children with mobility impairments. Vanderbilt is a longtime partner with Go Baby Go, which retrofits battery-operated cars for kids with disabilities – making the seat more stabilizing and the stop-and-go and steering controls easier to use.

Unlike the Go Baby Go cars that are gifted to one child, however, this car is going to a preschool that enrolls all types of children – so both those with and without disabilities can use it.

“We’re donating this to High Hopes Preschool, which combines typical children with children that have mobility impairments,” said Amanda McCausland, a biomedical engineering major. “It can be used by everyone.”

The team used a 3D printer to fabricate many of the needed parts.