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Brains vs. Blizzards: Harvard engineers take on the snow

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Harvard University students have been engineering new ways to deal with winter.

Eighteen juniors representing several engineering disciplines in Professor David Mooney’s Problem-Solving and Design class spent the fall semester inventing a robotic remote-control rooftop snow blower, a super-heated icicle cutter and a freeze-resistant doormat.

For their hands-on team project, the students collaborated with Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Operations (FMO) organisation to develop the equipment that would help clear snow on the institution’s colossal 5,000 acre campus.

Last year’s record-breaking winter saw six-feet of snow in the Boston area due to multiple blizzards hitting the area over a 30-day period. The weather forced the school to close several times in January and February, resulting in Harvard’s first campus closure caused by weather since 1978.

The innovative snow blower is a commercial machine fitted with two electric motors. This allows the user to control steering, and an electronics system enables control of the machine via a modified video gamepad. The converted machine is intended to improve safety by eliminating the need for workers to walk near the slippery edges of roofs.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced was combining all the components,” said Mechanical Engineering student Cesar Maeda. “Not only did we have to understand how the engine worked, how the gears worked, and how the alternator worked, we had to take it one step farther and integrate them all together.”

The inventions are just prototypes at this point, and won’t be deployed on the campus this winter. But many students hope that they will one day see the machine in hardware stores across the nation.

“I think the concepts the students developed were really novel and exciting, and they did a great job of prototyping and doing the appropriate calculations to back them up,” said instructor David Mooney.  “There was a lot of engineering in all three of these solutions.”

Associated Press, additional reporting by SEAS Harvard.

Image via AP Images.

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