Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Cell Phone Airbag Challenge

Videos and pictures of this airbag device have been circling the web the last few days:

While not available for production yet it is getting a lot of publicity, and rightly so. It is an ingenious design that appears to be effective and reusable. It got me thinking about Dan Burns and my Crash Cushion project. Students are asked to design a crash cushion for either a smart cart or a cart with an accelerometer on it to crash into. They are challenged to decrease the impact force as much as possible, something we hope they realize is accomplished by increasing the impact time. 

I want to assign this as an emergency sub assignment for students that can be done theoretically, no cracked screens needed. So I looked to see what other designs might already be out there and found this 2013 parody by Honda:

It is in Japanese and does not have subtitles but the engineering process is still evident in the parody video. The end product is a giant case for your phone which of course makes the phone impractical. I see the Honda version as where my students my start in the process and then the new spring loaded German design as where they might end, with lots of R&D in between.

I plan to start the activity by asking students what is necessary for an automatically deployed air bag for a dropped cell phone. They could work in pairs or groups and discuss the basics of the design criteria for a device that protects the dropped phone from breaking. I expect students to think about drop proof cases they may have seen commercially available that have enforced corners. Once they have made a list of the design needs groups/ pairs could share their individual lists to come up with a whole class list.

After their criteria has been established I would like to show students the original Honda parody video above. The original Honda video has been removed from their YouTube channel but the video is available on a few news sites. Since I can't find one with subtitles I'm not 100% sure its clean for the classroom but its probably safe since it was originally published on the official Honda page. Even on silent students can watch the video and observe his design process; it could be considered an advantage that they have to rely on the visual only and can't regurgitate anything they hear the engineer say. They will probably laugh at the final design but it will serve as a starting point for the next stage.

Before watching the video, or after, students can be given the shorter article about the parody video  that summarizes it and includes stills from the video. Ask students to discuss if the Honda Case N meets all aspects of their design criteria. If their class list was missing something about the phone case being of a practical size they will probably want to add it now. This should lead to a discuss about additional criteria they might want to add.

At this point you can ask students to actually start brainstorming an air bag device on paper. This may include some conjecture and may not hold up to questioning:
"There will be this bag that shoots out here..."
         "How will it shoot out?"
"Ummmm some kind of compressed gas..."
         "Where will that come from?"

And to an extent that is completely okay. Students aren't going to be able to build a workable model like they do with the Crash Cushions project. This activity is not even necessarily focused on the ideas of impulse either but more on reasonable design criteria

I found this article about the spring loaded German design and made a pdf to share with students. The original video can be shared as well, although it is in German. I plan to ask students what is most important to that design and if it meets all of their design criteria. Students can discuss differences in their design and the German spring loaded design, which of their own design criteria it does not meet, etc.

The viral German spring loaded design is expected to go to Kickstarter soon to crowd fund enough capital to begin production. You could continue the activity with students by asking them which of their own designs they would help crowd fund (before showing them the German design). After they see the German spring loaded design you could ask students if they support it enough to fund it as well, hypothetically of course.

While I plan for this to be a substitute activity it does require the sub to be capable of playing online video clips if your students do not have one-to-one devices like Chromebooks. My subs are not usually capable of operating my projector nor are we a one-to-one school so I don't know how likely I will be to implement this in the next school year. I've summarized everything, including questions I would ask students in this teacher guide for the activity.

I would love to hear any one else's ideas for extending this activity below. 

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