CSU mechanical engineering students gain hands-on experience in unique mechatronics lab

Savannah Hoag

Video courtesy Mechatronics Lab Archives

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Colorado State University mechanical engineering students are redefining what it means to be an engineering student in the up-and-coming field of mechatronics. 

Mechatronics is the combined study of mechanical systems and electronics. Students are able to put their knowledge of engineering to practice in the mechatronics lab by creating devices that encompass the idea of mechanical systems and electronics working together as a single functional device. 

The mechatronics lab supports a mandatory junior-level mechanical engineering class, Introduction to Mechatronics, but is open for use all mechanical engineering students. The course requires that every student participate in a project. 

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Mechatronics lab is home to many unique devices, including the self-playing guitar.

“Sometimes it’s really hard when you sit in a classroom and you hear about all these awesome theories and some really interesting things, but you can’t actually get that hands on experience,” Julia Tucker said, a senior mechanical engineering student. “It’s something that’s kind of intangible.”

CSU’s mechatronics lab helps the university stand out amongst many mechanical engineering programs throughout the country. Dr. David Alciatore manages both the mechatronics lab and teaches the accompanying course. He is also the author of the accompanying text book to the course. 

“Many universities don’t offer their students an experience like we do, and that makes our students more marketable,” Alciatore said.

Notable projects have been developed in the mechatronics lab, including an inverted pendulum drink cart that is featured as one of the top ten projects of all time to come out of the mechatronics lab. The cart appeared in the October 2014 issue of Design News and won Design News’ 2015 Gadget of the Year Award.

“It gives you a practical, real world understanding of all of the different components of electronics and controls,” said Clinton Knackstedt, a mechanical engineering graduate student.

Groups of students work together to design functional devices for a final grade in the class. The projects currently being developed in the mechatronics lab range from an avalanche rover to a Skittles sorter, from biometric lock boxes to a real-life rendition of Wizards’ Chess.

“I think all of the past student projects are important because they give our students valuable, hands on skills that are attractive to employers,” Alciatore said.

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The goal of the mechatronics course is to help students understand basic electrical circuits and electronic devices. Students combine both mechanics and electronics to figure out smart ways for their devices to work using software running off of a microchip.

“The best thing about the course is seeing how much fun the students have with the projects and seeing how much pride they get from creating interesting and impressive devices,” Alciatore said.

Collegian reporter Savannah Hoag can be reached at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @sav_hoag.