Design Engineer – Careers in Science and Engineering

Design Engineer – Careers in Science and Engineering


NARR: This is Amanda Parkes.
She’s a design engineer with the
tangible media lab at MIT… AMANDA: Our group works on this
vision called tangible bits.
Which is basically looking at how we can seamlessly move
between the physical world and
the digital world. So using computational power
embedded into everyday
objects or environments. NARR: Combining her
knowledge of design,
mechanics, and electronics,
Amanda researches and builds innovative products that
bridge the gap between the
digital and he physical. AMANDA: How do we kind of
create an experience for people
that isn’t just about the
engineering but its really thinking about the people
side, the human side of
human-computer interaction. NARR: Amanda and her colleagues
have developed a 3D modeling
system with kinetic memory – the
ability to record and playback
motion. AMANDA: One of the things
that I started thinking
about with Topobo was this higher concept of what is
it like to sculpt with motion,
and we immediately formed the project around making it a
teaching tool for kids. NARR: They’ve also designed a
tool for landscape architects
where they can use sand to form
their designs and store them on a computer. Some of Amanda’s
favorite research combines her
love of fashion with a desire to discover how to generate
power using the natural motion
of the human body. She designs and creates wearable electronics
– clothing made from fibers that
can generate and store energy. AMANDA: This is the first
prototype of a project called
Bodyscape which will eventually end up being a piece of fabric
that is actuated. So it will
actually be able to change
shape and hold a shape. NARR: Amanda interweaves
the plastic with a
wire-like substance called Nitinol that contracts when
activated, just like our
muscles. AMANDA: So there could be one
state where it is here another
state where it is like this AMANDA: You could sort of
expand the frame… so that
it could accommodate a
larger or smaller child When you are trying
to understand the dynamics of
interactivity – you really
need to be out there kind of understanding how people
interact with each other and
just kind of you know being a social being. Being a kind
of part of a social world. Hey, um, Sam and Joe. We’ve
got a kind of California
feast here… fajitas coming One of the ways that I hope my
work will make a difference is
with my very early start up
company – Bodega Algae. NARR: Bodega is developing an
efficient way to grow algae
that can be used as a biofuel, while also incorporating
it into landscape design. AMANDA: Well it’s like a
curse to the people who own
the golf course and they are always putting toxins
and chemicals into the
water to kill it but if
we change the paradigm and put up signage at the
golf course and said hey we
are growing this as biofuel. We are going to power the
clubhouse at the golf
course from this pond. As a design engineer, I think
maybe one of the most kind of
interesting parts of it is the
versatility of what I get to do. So really understanding that
I don’t have to be wed to one
particular kind of engineering. I do everything from building up
mechanical models on the
computer, designing in on the computer. Designing physical
forms to working in our machine
shop, cutting the prototyping materials for this as well as
kind of writing some computer
code and designing the electronics I use the laser
cutter a lot which is basically
a machine that works kind of like you know an ink jet printer
but instead of actually printing
something it cuts with a laser Another machine which we use a
lot is the waterjet cutter which
is works a lot like the laser cutter but with this one you can
cut very large pieces of metal
with the same kind of high resolution and this allows us to
kind of think in a bigger scale.
I think the line between when I am working and when I am not is
sometimes very blurred. I would
still be creating and sewing and designing in my free time – that
is what I love to do as my hobby
and so the fact that my work happens to overlap with that
doesn’t really make it seem like
work all that much. I grew up on the beach in California – so I
surfed. I played volleyball. I
am still very active in a number of sports. I was a rower as an
undergrad. I think that’s also
really important part – keeping a kind of healthy mentality
about your body and your
lifestyle. So when I was in high school I always loved math and
physics and science and I also
always loved art… And I didn’t quite understand how they
quite overlapped until I got to
undergrad. I found this major called product design which
was a part of the mechanical
engineering department and it was there that I kind
of understood that I could
apply the aesthetics that I cared about the kind of
creativity that I had sort
of honed to a technical project. And it was really a
kind of lighting bolt sort of
moment for me when I realized that this could be a profession.
So something that is really
crucial to my process here as a researcher is the help that I
get from the undergrads –
undergraduates who are working with me. You will be working
both on the solid works of the
structures that contain the kind of electronics and motors and
that kind of stuff as well as
engineering some of the simpler – how do we translate rotational
motion into linear motion. In terms of making a living yes
you can definitely make a great
living – I get to travel a lot. I go to conferences and art
festivals and present papers
and projects and do work on
exhibitions and this allows me to meet uh lots of other
creative kinds of people both on
the engineering and art side. And as well as just having a lot
of creative freedom inside of
what I am doing is just a kind of really inspiring way to live.
When you actually make something
and it does what you think its going to do and someone
interacts with it, and you see a
kind of enlightenment coming to them through the object that is
an incredible feeling–to know
that someone has learned something through using you know
the tool that you have created.