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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Reinventing the stove

    Six UA engineering students have designed and assembled a cooking appliance that provides disabled and elderly persons with a safe and convenient alternative to a traditional stove.

    Students taking part in Engineering 498, Cross-disciplinary Design, were charged with the task of designing a “”cooktop”” – an industry word for a stovetop minus the oven.

    A cooktop’s safety and accessibility features include height-adjustable legs, automatic shut-off switches and alarms, a special burner configuration and induction burners that heat only the cookware, leaving the surface of the device cool, said Gerald Pine, adjunct professor of ENGR 498, who oversaw the project.

    “”It’s basically a safer stovetop that’s more convenient for use by the elderly and disabled,”” Pine said.

    Pine’s students took up the project after Frank Frisina, a United Way spokesman and president of Welcome Home, a company that designs homes for disabled people, came to the engineering

    department with a vision of a safer cooktop.

    “”Great loss is experienced from

    (elderly and disabled) people in the cooking process,”” Frisina said. “”Removing that obstacle as best we can will give people a more comfortable and safer life.””

    Sharon Gartner, director of Supporting Seniors United Way Tucson, first proposed the project to the engineering department in the fall of 2005, but the students at that time declined to take up the challenge.

    “”I was pretty disappointed because I was looking forward to that kind of unit being built,”” Frisina said. “”I don’t think students recognize the gravity of

    this project.””

    When Frisina pitched the idea to students in August 2006, however, they rose to the challenge, completing construction in May.

    With a $2,000 budget for materials, engineering students Andrew Booth, Jennine Chesler, Michael Cromwell, David Montgomery, Richelle Rosenbaum and Atlas Trieu consulted monthly with Frisina while they conceived of the cooktop and built it to fit the parameters he had in mind.

    “”Our sponsor was very supportive,”” said Chesler, a biosystems engineering senior who is credited with doing much of the electrical work for the appliance.

    One of the biggest hurdles that the students faced was overcoming unwanted stray electrical effects.

    “”Mainly, it was just wiring and getting everything placed to avoid electromagnetic interference,”” she said.

    To that end, the design incorporates compartments in the walls and aluminum shielding, Chesler said.

    Featuring a triangular burner arrangement – one in the front and two in the back – the appliance’s operator doesn’t have to reach over hot cookware to access the rear burners.

    The burners themselves employ the principle of induction, whereby the pot is heated without heating the surface of the appliance.

    Since the height is adjustable and potentially within the reach of small children, the designers incorporated a shut-off switch to prevent them from adjusting the burner settings, Frisina said.

    The cooktop was tested at a fair in the Student Union Memorial Center’s Grand Ballroom and it successfully boiled water, he said, adding that he’s pleased with the final outcome of the project and hopes to see it manufactured commercially.

    If and when the cooktop is turned over for commercial production, Frisina said he would like to see remote auditory and visual alarms included to alert sight- and hearing-impaired operators who accidentally leave the unit unattended.

    The existing prototype features both sound and light alarms built into the cooktop itself, Pine said.

    Currently, the appliance sits in Pine’s office, but he, too, said that he’d like to put it into production.

    “”It’s kind of a niche market, we think, at least initially,”” Pine said. “”So it’s not the kind of thing that you’re ever going to go down and buy at (J.C.) Penney’s or (Montgomery) Ward’s or something like that.””

    “”On the other hand, we think it’s a big enough market, and a growing market, that it might possibly be of interest to a manufacturer out there,”” he said.

    Approximately 100 students take part in the course every year, and representatives of various industries propose projects to the students, who then vote on which ones they’d like to address, Pine said.

    When a project is selected, the proposing sponsor allocates $5,000, of which $2,000-2,500 goes to materials, Pine said.

    This year, groups of students are tackling 22 different projects. Past projects include missile defense technology and a special membrane that could be used for fuel cells or kidney dialysis machines.

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