Co-op experience motivates mechanical engineering student to pursue a research career

by Mitch Emmons

Participation in a three-semester co-op enrollment has motivated Daniel Michael, a senior in Auburn University’s mechanical engineering degree program with the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and a recipient of this year’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship, to explore a career as a researcher.

“I specifically want to help as many people as possible,” Michael said. “After finishing my co-op at Southern Research Institute, I knew that I wanted to work in the research and design side of engineering.”

Michael worked ahead of application deadlines to submit his project proposal and application for the fellowship selection, according to his faculty mentor, Howard Chen, an assistant research professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“Danny took the initiative of getting this application done months before the due date, while he was out on co-op,” Chen said, noting that the project will officially start in the fall. "He will be trying to identify various manual material handling tasks using wearable sensors in an effort to understand and predict occupational injuries," Chen explained.

Michael says he will be able to combine many of the skills he has learned in his mechanical engineering studies while working on his research.

“This research area represents a tangible way to use my knowledge as a mechanical engineer in order to help people,” Michael said. “I love how interdisciplinary this topic is. It will require knowledge of computer programming, system dynamics and controls, electrical engineering, and kinematics.” He will begin by establishing communication and logging data from the IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) sensors.

“We will gather plenty of data to train the machine,” Michael said. “The machine will eventually learn to identify when the wearer of the sensors is performing specific manual material handling (MMH) tasks. Once the machine has learned how to identify certain MMH tasks using the data from the IMUs, we will progress to gathering data using a wider range of test subjects, and ultimately, we will write a paper detailing our findings.”

Chen says Michael’s research project has broad benefit potential.

“This research is focused on being able to classify human motion using wearable sensors,” Chen said. “Once this technology is perfected, it has the potential to aid in such things as decreasing workplace injury, aiding the disabled with motor functions, and even increasing the strength and endurance of military soldiers.”

Michael says that to pursue a research career, he will need to further his education. He already is planning to attend graduate school after completing his undergraduate degree.

The AU Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program offers awards that support projects in duration of a summer term up to one semester in length. Fellowships can be awarded for up to two years for selected students, and the program is open to students in every major.

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