It's a safe bet that none of the students in John Wanberg's Advanced Industrial Design Studio class had ever flown in a gyrocopter. Yet, their semester project was to design cockpit components for the aircraft that would be both ergonomic and pleasing to the eye.
So last Monday, after a semester of research, brainstorming, sketching and model-making, Wanberg's students presented their designs for control sticks, throttles, instrument panels, seats and more. Critiquing the presentations were Wanberg, an associate professor of industrial design, and Cobus Burger, the U.S.-based dealer for Phenix Aviation, a Spanish company that produces gyrocopters and their components.
Burger contacted the Industrial Design Department "out of the blue" with the idea of having students design the control stick of the Phenix aircraft, Wanberg recalls. Wanberg built on the request, suggesting students tackle the interior, with a focus on ergonomics and aesthetics. Burger advised the students throughout the semester.
It turned out to be a win-win. The industrial design majors stretched their research, conceptualization and presentation skills while producing high-quality portfolio materials that will aid them in their careers after graduation. Phenix, which only has a small engineering team, got pro-bono cockpit designs. The best work may go into production, and the winning student would also be compensated with a gift card to a store of his or her choice.
It was a challenging assignment. Only one of Wanberg's students has a private pilot's license; the others had little, if any, experience sitting in a cockpit. So, the class visited the flight simulator in the Department of Aviation and Aerospace Science, dropped in on a meeting of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and went to Rotors of the Rockies, a Broomfield helicopter flight training school, as part of their research.
"All of us want to design different things and go into different fields," says student Rachel Briggs. "We never thought we'd be designing for a gyrocopter but it was an opportunity to go outside of designing familiar items such as furniture or house wares.
"One of the good things about a project like this is they're coming into it fresh, so they don't have some of the preconceived notions of how it should look and how it should work," Wanberg says.
The students had a choice of developing designs for the control stick and throttle, the dashboard and controls, seating, or the exterior, both how it could look and how it could be used by, say, a police department for surveillance. "It had to feel good but also had to look good, so that it would be inviting to touch and to sit in and to use," Wanberg says.
For their final exam, the students explained their design concepts in a Dec. 10 presentation that included installation of their model products in one of two cockpit mockups. They were graded on the quality of their oral presentation, their 2D or 3D depictions, and the aesthetics and applicability of their concepts.
"At the end of the day, it was great experience for them," Burger says. "And at the same time, I got a great bunch of ideas."
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