Something froshling Engineers do during second semester (or sophomore Engineers in the fall).

Some GoodIdeas for random projects we'd like to see include:

A core elective.
One past E4 project (Spring '98) was to make a giant calculator for ProfessorBenjamin to use in his math/magic shows. Two cases and two displays were constructed. One of each is currently in use at the Magic Castle in Hollywood(?), where Prof. Benjamin performs. Those of us that built the calculator finally get to see it in action next semester, as we are all 21 now.

I have fond memories of E4, most notably having to pull an all-nighter to finish our report after eating 48 Chicken Nuggets that evening.

Before relating my sad, sad story about my EfourProject, I would like to note that E4 is not a core elective, thank god. That's only because core electives don't exist any more...

So, during frosh year I was under the delusion that I wanted to be an engineer. No offense to those of the EngineeringMajor persuasion, mind you. The second semester elective that was recommended (and from what I know, essentially required unless you wanted to guarantee at least one overload at some point) was E4.

The projects are sort of like clinic, but with a few differences. On the one hand, they're easier problems that are meant to be done on a smaller budget in a shorter period of time, and it is not expected that you will achieve any results. On the other hand, pretty much anyone can ask for an EfourProject, meaning that you may end up working for people who understand none of those differences. Or for that matter, the bounds of what is physically possible.

The group I was in was assigned a project from the Pomona Valley Hospital Physical Therapy Department. We were supposed to create some method for people in wheelchairs to hold items while shopping. The idea was to allow the wheelchair bound (at least, the ones in physical therapy) to have some measure of independence by not need someone to help carry the items they were planning to buy. Simple bags or baskets held on the lap were not viable solutions.

The method or device we were supposed to come up with had a number of requirements. It had to have a pretty decent capacity, and be easily accessible both for adding and removing items. Additional, it couldn't add too much to the size of the chair (so as to not be a hindrance in supermarket aisles) and couldn't hamper the range of motion of anyone in the chair or the chair itself. Any modification of the chair itself was to be kept to a minimum (since apparently some people are fussy about keeping their chairs perfect.) Finally, of course, it had to be cheap. Some of you will notice that many of these requirements do not go together particularly well. Our liaison figured that this was our problem.

Extensive research found a few existing solutions; while they were expensive (being medical supplies, which are typically covered by health insurance), we could have built a simple equivalent very easily. This idea was rejected outright by the liaison. We tried coming up with as many ideas as possible, using the methods taught to us in class; each one was not viable because it violated one of the many requirements. Something that went under or behind the chair would not be easily accessible, while something on the side would make the chair too wide. The front was also not viable because many wheelchair users do not have sufficient control of their legs to lean forward. Something directly in front of them, held up by beams, would limit their motion if they wanted to get out of the chair. And so on, and so on.

None of the three teams working on this project found a solution that satisfied our liaison, which didn't surprise me very much. I emerged from the course with the absolute certainty that I did not want to be an engineer, and later became a MathMajor. To this day, simply saying "E4" to me will cause a rather nasty twitch in my eye and/or a murderous rampage. Plus, I missed taking Discrete from ProfessorLevin.

So in conclusion, an EfourProject may be all right, or it may be a complete and utter pain in the ass. It really depends on what the project is, and who your liaison is. And whether they have a functioning brain. Not that I'm bitter.

Though our group did not have the worst of it. One group was working on portable screens for an art museum; they were constructing a proof-of-concept, given that the actual project would probably have a $7000 budget. Somehow, they managed to find a way to fulfill the requirements for something like a quarter of the price; thrilled, they went to tell their liaison about their findings. The response? "Oh... that's nice. Do you think you could do it for cheaper?"


So, Jeff, what's this I hear about a flashlight?

Hmm, the only way I think a wheelchair-cart would be feasible is if it could swivel to be either on the front or side of the chair (or side and back, or have 180-degree swivellingness), attached perhaps to the frame of the chair itself. I expect this idea presented itself to someone at some point, of course, but that seems like it would work ... then again, I am distinctly NOT an engineer, duct tape notwithstanding. --DuctTapeGuy

Must control rage... We actually suggested something like that at one point, but it was rejected because the user might need to lean over a little to get it to swivel all the way properly, which not all of them have the range of motion to do; if it was going to swivel, it would have to be something that the user could control essentially without moving too much (which can be done, maybe with some sort of RC car part thingies, but would probably be out of our price range.) Trust me, we spent a lot of time trying to find something that would fit the requirements. I think the root of the problem was that our liaison wanted too much. He wanted one system that would work for ALL wheelchair users, and one of the things we learned (or at least, I learned) is that there's quite a range of ability in wheelchair users, so what works for one person won't necessarily work for another. Though our liaison should have known that better than us...

I remember my EfourProject all too well. My team was supposed to design a greenhouse for the Pomona Vally Center for Community Development. Because it's a not for profit organization, this needed to be done inexpensively, so using any sort of commercial kit was pretty much out. Did I mention that by "greenhouse", they meant "hundred foot long greenhouse that we can use for classes"? And that nobody on my team had any clue what we were doing trying to design or build a large structure?

Some of the projects that I saw were actually reasonable, but far to many of them end up with the students faking everything because nobody has any clue how to produce the results they want?

Oh, and does anybody want a 30 page report on a stapler?


Contrary to popular belief, not everybody hates their EfourProject. My group's project was for Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. The goal: to design a portable apparatus that could take consistent pictures of wounds (typically on the lower extremities) while including a 1 cm square grid in the picture. I think part of the reason I had a good time with this is because I had a really, really awesome group. Of course, I did dedicate a good chunk of time to this project, having volunteered to be the groups LaTeX bitch. Ah, 8 hours of translating incredibly minor edits from Word files to LaTeX after pulling an all-nighter for a HumPaper.


It's a shame that some folks have had unpleasant E4 experiences, but it's not always that way. JeffBrenion has a good point, though-- the positiveness of the experience depends on the project and the liaison. The faculty advisor can usually help if the liaison is being unreasonable.

My team's EfourProject was to design a device to increase the independence of a 10-year-old with arthrogryposis, which is a medical condition of the joints resulting in an extremely limited range of motion. He can do with his feet most of the things that we do with our hands. He really wanted a way to take off and put on his own socks, so we built a device that took advantage of his podiatric dexterity. He was thrilled with it, but as far as we know, his mother never came back to pick up the final device.


I had a reasonably good experience with my E4 final project which I took as a FrOsh second semester.

My EfourProject was from Teach for America, we were to design a desk & chair for high schools. The design space was wide open, and we were allowed to consider all sorts of off the wall stuff. It was quite a bit of fun, and I ended up learning solidworks in order to sketch out the desk. The only problem I had with the project was that we probably needed to take continuum to properly choose materials for the desk.


Spring 2009 Project List

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