Can We Build it Now? – Erin Simons

Last week JetSet completed the second leg of their journey towards creating a market-ready product. While the deadline for design proposals was pushed back to this coming Wednesday, JetSet used their time wisely and was ready to turn in their proposal last Thursday for five extra credit points (JetSet’s members are suckers for extra credit). Partly because I am the team lead and partly because I love being OCD with document margins and formatting (and logo designs!), I was in charge of formatting the design proposal in Microsoft Word, as well as researching national standards and regulations for the technical background and describing our proposed design.

Now sifting through the regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) isn’t quite as dramatic as my summer reading book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, but I was still able to find a lot of useful information, once I figured out where to look. I started conducting research on applicable standards before my team knew what our design would look like, so I initially looked for regulations regarding items connected to airplane seats. I couldn’t find any FAA regulations on attaching items to airplane seats, since that’s a pretty uncommon procedure, and was fairly lost in the depths of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR) until JetSet decided that our device that would not attach to an airplane seat. Afterwards I just focused on regulations for carry-on items, and found that as long as one’s carry-on baggage is properly stored for takeoff and landing, it’s okay to bring on pretty much any device (granted that it passes through security). I also researched if there was a standard airplane seat size, but found that there are no set dimensions, and seat width and length can vary from airline to airline. However, I was able to find information on the seat pitch of airline seats, which is the distance between the same position on two seats. Most seat pitches were between 31 and 34 inches (this includes the seat width) so I’m fairly certain that our device will fit between the rows of seats with plenty of space left for other carry-on baggage. While searching for these standards and regulations was difficult and time-consuming, I realize that being able to analyze and filter a massive wealth of information is an important research skill, and by knowing my way around major databases like the e-CFR I’ll have a leg-up on future research projects in high school and college.

The column on the far right shows the seat pitches for economy seats on various international airlines (original screenshot of website:
The column on the far right shows the seat pitches for economy seats on various international airlines (original screenshot from this website)

I should probably also mention what our device actually is, shouldn’t I? The design, which was originally sketched by Anjali, consists of a board, about the size of a piece of paper, along which five(ish) axles run lengthwise. Attached to the outer two axles are two pedals that can be compressed with springs, allowing for expanded ankle movement, which is one of the recommended motions for inflight exercise. The axles allow the distance between the pedals to be adjusted, and when pushed to the ends of the axles the additional three axles are revealed, upon which wooden beads are strung. Users can massage their feet by rolling them along the beads, which increases the range of motion of the device.

The “Proposed Design” section of the proposal also required concept sketches of the device, but because I can barely draw a circle I got approval from the teachers to sketch our design in Google SketchUp. Now SketchUp and I have a love-hate relationship after the tenth grade DAP project (I personally prefer AutoCAD), but SketchUp was already installed on my computer, so I spent two days piecing together a rough draft of our device. The hardest part was definitely attaching the beads and axles to the device (since there’s no “flush” tool), and after successfully doing this I realized I had only inserted four axles, not five, and had put beads on the two outer axles as well. But I didn’t want to spend another six hours trying to fix this because the proposal only required a concept sketch, and I think the SketchUp model still shows the concept of our design clearly.

Original screenshot of a perspective view of my initial SketchUp model
Original screenshot of a perspective view of my initial SketchUp model

Everyone in my group seems excited and slightly frightened by the next phase of our design: prototyping. Given that three of JetSet’s four members participated in InvenTeams two years ago, we know how deflating and frustrating prototyping can be. However, I feel better about it this time around, because we have a more definite idea of what we want our design to look like and how it’s supposed to work. I’m excited to start taking apart some toys and building our first prototype!

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