Product Design

SolidWorks Helps MIT Students Tackle Global Illiteracy

13 Feb, 2004 By: Cadalyst Staff

MIT students use 3D mechanical design software to develop easy-to-use, affordable microfilm projector to help adults learn to read.

Globally, nearly one in five adults can't read. Most live in villages where electricity, teachers, and reading textbooks are scarce. Design that Matters, a nonprofit organization started at MIT, set out to develop an affordable, low-tech device that would be portable, durable, and easy to make, use, and fix. It also had to provide large amounts of information. Kinkajou--named after a monkey-like rainforest mammal with large, reflective eyes--is a small, battery-operated microfilm projector that delivers 10,000 pages of information on one microfilm spool for less than $100. Printing the same amount of information would cost $400.

MIT students working in conjunction with Design that Matters chose SolidWorks 3D mechanical design software for the Kinkajou project because of the software's intuitive interface, precise assembly capabilities, troubleshooting tools, and affordability.

With a limited budget, MIT students built a prototype for a pilot project in Mali and Benin in West Africa, where 55% of all adults are illiterate. Most adults spend all day working in their fields, leaving night-time courses as their only opportunity to learn to read. Typically, they must share a book with as many as three other students and struggle to see the text by kerosene lamp.

"The MIT students had to overcome many design challenges to make Kinkajou an effective learning tool in West African communities," said Timothy Prestero, Design that Matters co-founder and advisor to the Kinkajou project. "Aside from being portable, easy to use, and sturdy, Kinkajou had to be dust-proof because the region is near the Sahara Desert and dust is everywhere. The projector needed to have some very precise fits."

High tolerances, low time requirement
Throughout product development, SolidWorks helped students work quickly and efficiently. "SolidWorks is extremely intuitive," said Stacy Figueredo, one of the core undergraduate student designers. "You know what the buttons are going to do because the symbols make sense. That means you spend less time hunting for the right functions. The amount of time to complete the Kinkajou design in SolidWorks took about 10% of the time required for traditional drafting, including translating those sketches into 3D."

SolidWorks also made it easy to troubleshoot design challenges, such as preventing operators from completely unscrewing the focus knob and providing enough room for their fingers when they change microfilm spools.

Figure 1.

"Because of the nature of the design, we had to account for many interdependent tolerances, such as the sizing of the film advancing belt, whose measurement comes from other tolerances," said Figueredo. "SolidWorks helped us visualize these component relationships and

Figure 2.
ensure they match up exactly. This was especially important for ensuring a tight fit between the unit's thermoformed plastic top and the base plate to keep dust out."

Figueredo and the team used SolidWorks' 3D visualization tools to create easy-to-understand assembly instructions so that humanitarian agencies could hire local manufacturers to build Kinkajou (figure 1).

Figueredo was part of a team of students developing the Kinkajou beta model field tested this summer (figure 2). The team traveled to villages in Mali and Benin to gauge the interest of nongovernmental organizations in sponsoring efforts to bring Kinkajou to their communities (figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3.

Figure 4.

The Kinkajou team (figure 5) is the third group of students that worked on this project through Design that Matters.

Figure 5.

Like the teams before them, this team documented its results for successive teams who will finalize the Kinkajou design. According to Neil Cantor, Design that Matters co-founder, the next step is for other students at MIT and local universities to further refine the design prior to Kinkajou's widespread distribution. Cantor said Design that Matters is currently strategizing with a global literacy education organization about deploying the Kinkajou in community classrooms, possibly by next spring (figure 6).

Figure 6.

"Literacy is one of the most effective tools for fighting poverty, widespread disease, corruption, and war," said Rosanne Kramer, director of worldwide education markets for SolidWorks Corp. "From reading prescription labels to job applications to new laws, it is fundamental to everything we do. Kinkajou has not only given these MIT students invaluable product design and humanitarian experience, but also seeks to overcome one of man's most enduring scourges. SolidWorks' role as the design software underscores its range and highlights the company's commitment to improving everyday life."

SolidWorks Corp.

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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