Ryan is a Senior at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. He is graduating in December 2019. He is majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Mechatronics. Ryan is an active member of the Cal Poly QL+ Student Association.
As a member of the QL+ SA, he is working on Project MIDAS [manual-interface dexterity-affording solution], or Hands For Julian. Julian Reynoso is a ten-year-old boy who was involved in a hit-and-run accident with a drunk driver. As a result of this tragic accident, he lost his father, sister, and brother. 85% of his body was burned, and he lost nine of his fingers. Project MIDAS endeavors to design a set of prosthetic hands for him to interface with the world: the left hand being a mechatronic hand, and the right hand being purely mechanical, due to the amputation locations on each.
Why did you choose your major? Back in high school in Colorado, I had a teacher that changed my life—he was an ex-Aerospace engineer, and I took his engineering courses. He was the person who proposed that I try Mechanical Engineering, that it would give me the greatest amount of choice and control with my future. I selected Mechanical Engineering because mechanical design is my passion. The synthesis between dreams/ideas and the understanding of mechanics that grounds these dreams in reality will always be an interesting endeavor. And I selected Mechatronics as my concentration because it increases the potential for these dreams to come to fruition.
Describe your experience working with QL+ so far. What is the biggest challenge? What has been rewarding? It has been extraordinary. My first experience with QL+ was as a team lead for another quarter-long formal design project, revising the foot position mechanism on a wounded warrior triathlete’s prosthetic leg, and I was hooked: it made me realize that prosthetics design is something I’m good at, something that I enjoy, and something that can change a person’s life, and this excitement fueled itself with a certain reciprocity that never died out since I started.
For MIDAS, the biggest challenge lies in three things: (1) the nuances of the smallest details (since a myoelectric, prosthetic hand has never been designed for a user this small), (2) the sheer scale of the project, aiming to deliver both distinct projects in only three quarters, and (3) designing a final project that has an estimated life of two years (so no cutting corners!!)
For the first challenge, a prosthetic hand this small has never been done before. Myoelectric prosthetics aren’t typically designed for kids, and the further an engineering project is scaled down, the more difficult component sourcing, mechanical design, and robustness become. Take, for example, our search for bevel gears that were small enough to fit inside the finger. Not only did they have to mate to a 2-millimeter D-shaft, but they were so small that companies didn’t even manufacture them! We had to custom-order these gears from a company called ShapeWays, who used a lost-wax process to cast them with bronze and sent them in individually-wrapped jewelry bags.
The sheer scale of the project is unbelievable—as the original Team Lead of the project, I have divided the responsibilities between myself and another member after realizing the magnitude of what must be delivered. Our team works more than six hours a week, and as a lead, that’s almost like a full-time job for me (though it’s worth it for the experience.) Alone, it feels like drinking from a firehose. Looking at the smallest nuances of every part feels like opening Pandora’s Box and diving far down the rabbit hole. But because our endeavor and motivation are shared between every member of MIDAS, we’ve been able to stay afloat and ahead of this massive tidal wave with an assurance of our project’s timely deliverance.
What has been rewarding is that this is a project I will never forget for the rest of my life. Just having the opportunity to meet my challenger and his mother have filled me with a boundless compulsion to give Julian a chance to be a kid again: the sarcastic-yet-optimistic behavior that emerged after he warmed up to my team; that proof and that evidence that despite the atrocity, he has the will and the strength to carry on and try to live his best life.
The community’s support of our project has been incredible as well. At the start of our project, we held a GoFundMe that reached its goal of $5,000 IN 48 HOURS with over 650 page shares on Facebook. Messages from friends and family of Julian and our team members cheered us on. And much later, in the third quarter of our project, we found a sponsor that provided us with unlimited funding for the completion of our project. It shows that this project’s heart is rooted in the community: that we aren’t alone in this project, and that people are watching us with the same sense of justice and anticipation of what our team can accomplish.
What would you say to other students about QL+? It’s an experience that will change your life. What will differentiate this experience from others is the presence of a true “customer” or recipient; these projects aren’t just hypothetical but have a significant and heavy human factor to them as well.
What are your plans after graduation? My engagement with QL+ has developed within me a strong interest in prosthetics, so possibly something that follows the same suit. More generally, I’d like to find work in mechanical design or control systems, solving problems that require optimization and ingenuity.
What has been the proudest moment of your college career? This.
What three words best describe you? Passionate, compassionate, and tenacious.