Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Projects: Cots for Cold Seasons

THE COT PROJECT: Kimberly Tan ’22 and Aadhya Kocha ’22 work together to build cots for a local shelter.

Just across the river in Vermont, the Upper Valley Haven noticed a persistent problem with its Seasonal Shelter, a winter program that requires transforming one of its main gathering areas into an overnight shelter for up to 15 guests. The cots had to be set up each night, then taken down each morning so that the space could be used during the day. The cots the Haven currently uses are designed for camping, difficult to assemble, relatively uncomfortable, and break easily. 

Haven staffers had already researched their options and knew the type of cot they needed—easy to store, comfortable, and durable with a simple set-up. The only problem? The cots they needed didn’t exist. 

In came the team of Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE) problem-solvers. 

“The cot project started as a potential ENGS 21: Introduction to Engineering project that my group was considering last winter,” says Nat Healy ’20, co-president of the student group. “And then we thought, this would be great for DHE to run with.” 

DHE consists mostly of engineering majors, as well as computer science and studio art majors and undergrads who have yet to declare their majors. They all share one goal: to create engineering solutions that advance the common good. Along with Healy, students currently working on the cot project are Aadhya Kocha ’22, Andres Hernandez ’21, Brook Leigh ’22, Dylan Cerveny ’21, Garret Andreine ’22, Isaac Hanover ’22, Keoni Ocalvey ’20, and Kimberly Tan ’22. 

“We quickly decided that a stackable cot would be most effective at increasing durability, minimizing set-up time, and preserving storability,” says Healy. “During the summer and fall, we’ve been brainstorming, designing, and building with the goal of having a functioning prototype for user testing in this winter’s Seasonal Shelter.” 

The biggest challenge was to design the joints to be durable and easy to repair. 

“We used Thayer’s Instron machine to test our joint designs, and I happened to be taking ENGS 33: Solid Mechanics at the time, so I was like, perfect! I know all about this stuff now!” says Healy. 

“The Haven is also terrified of getting bedbugs,” he says. “Our design can’t use tubes or wood or have a lot of nooks and crannies. They have to be able to thoroughly wipe down the structure of the cot.”

Healy continues, “There was a lot of materials science work because in order to be durable, the cot structure has to be strong but not too stiff. It has to have some give when someone moves around on it. Eventually, we found a way to simplify the design so there’s no welding involved. It’s all nuts, bolts, and plates using off-the-shelf standard parts. That’s important, too, because if we end up going to a manufacturer to make a lot of these, simpler is cheaper. 

“Around this time we had a bunch of new members join DHE and we had to get them ready and trained in the Machine Shop, which takes a lot of time. It turns out that the simplicity of our design made it the perfect project for our new recruits. 

“Thayer’s hands-on, experience-based learning appealed to me and was the main reason I applied to Dartmouth,” says Healy. “I’ve always loved working on projects with others and having a tangible result for my efforts. I think DHE exemplifies Thayer’s commitment to this type of learning. Every project we work on has a tangible result, both in the physical product that we build as well as the social impact that our products can achieve.” 

DHE delivered its first prototype to the Haven in November and hopes to complete user testing and at least one round of design iteration before the spring. 

—Catha Mayor Lamm

Categories: The Great Hall, Humanitarian Engineering, Student Groups

Tags: Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering, extra-curricular, humanitarian service

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