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Mechanical engineering design is experienced by students as they work on team projects. During the Spring Quarter ME113 course, the students on the Roof Rack Design team focused on mounting solar cells to a car roof rack without permanent attachment or damage to the roof, with favorable aerodynamic performance, and with compliance to high margins of safety when the product encountered high winds or driving speeds. Equipping vehicles with solar panels can provide a valuable source of power while both driving and stationary.

Two people standing on either sides of a research poster
Students in the ME113 class with their presentation and prototype for easier car access for individuals with more limited mobility.
White car with a solar panel mounted on the roof
Student teams built the solar panel and the frame to support it. The rack was built to maximize the number of solar cells on the roof and aerodynamic properties. Two systems operated the frame, which allowed for rotation to maximize exposure to the sun.

A Design Thinking Process

This Design Thinking process first defines the problem and then implements the solutions, always with the needs of the user demographic at the core of concept development. This process focuses on need finding, understanding, creating, thinking, and doing. At the core of this process is a bias towards action and creation: by creating and testing something, you can continue to learn and improve upon your initial ideas.

This design thinking process consists of these 5 steps:


Work to fully understand the experience of the user for whom you are designing. Do this through observation, interaction, and immersing yourself in their experiences.


Process and synthesize the findingsfrom your empathy work in order to form a user point of view that you will address with your design.


Explore a wide variety of possible solutions through generating a large quantity of diverse possible solutions, allowing you to step beyond the obvious and explore a range of ideas.


Transform your ideas into a physical form so that you can experience and interact with them and, in the process, learn and develop more empathy.


Try out high-resolution products and use observations and feedback to refine prototypes, learn more about the user, and refine your original point of view.

For more information on this process check out the the way of working.

Instructors for Spring Quarter 2016-17 are Fritz B. Prinz and Bernie Roth. ME 113 is a Capstone course.