If you’ve been tracking us with our Facebook page (which, by the way, you should like), then you might remember a picture that I posted of a self-propelled couch that I saw on a lazy Sunday afternoon in early September. I have to admit, I’m used to seeing impressive engineering projects at Mudd (like a pair of self-propelled freeline skates just days prior), but this couch struck my interest particularly because my friend, Zakkai, had worked on it as a summer 2013 research project. This past weekend, I finally got to investigate!
This past Saturday night, I had the chance to meet the five masterminds behind this engineering feat: Benjamin Chasnov (’16), Zakkai Davidson (’16), Alistair Dobke (’14), Jerry Hsiung (’16), and Cyrus Huang (’16).
Zakkai had conceived the idea of a drivable couch early on in high school, but his idea remained dormant. It wasn’t until he began to attend Harvey Mudd, motivated by other brilliant DIY engineers, that he decided to make this far-flung dream a reality. Zakkai intended on funding the project with the Shanahan Student-Directed Project Fund, a resource that Mudd students can use to obtain funding for essentially anything they’re interested in.
However, due to limiting circumstances, Zakki instead sought to create this as a summer research project and found Professor Zachary Dodds from the Department of Computer Science as a possible sponsor. Talks with Dodds led to Zakkai, along with Benjamin, Alistair, Jerry, and Cyrus, being asked to implement Zakkai’s dream of a self-propelled, autonomous couch over the last half of the Summer 2013 research session. According to Zakkai, Prof. Dodds said that he felt like this idea would draw people to the realm of robotics who wouldn’t be interested in or pay attention to it otherwise.
The group began planning the autonomous couch late in the Spring 2013 semester and carried on into the first half of summer research. The couch was a diamond-in-the-rough, having been obtained at a local Goodwill store for only ten dollars. The group planned to implement the couch’s autonomy by installing a laser eye from a Neato robotic vacuum cleaner and adapting software to help the couch traverse the Libra Complex, the connected basement of Mudd’s many academic buildings. Furthermore, the group needed to actually lay the groundwork for the groundwork; the framework, motors, battery, wheels, sprockets, Arduino board, and LEDs lights combined cost over $500.00.
It wasn’t until the first week of August that the group began assembling the couch. Through the construction of the couch as well as configuring the vehicle’s autonomy, the team members forged a strong bond with each other and learned immense amounts of engineering and robotics knowledge. Over a span of three weeks, Zakkai’s initial dream became a reality.
The end result is a resilient self-propelled couch that can be controlled with a game console controller or (if you’re in the Libra Complex) autonomously. The couch, mounted with one person, can travel up to six miles per hour. Furthermore, the couch, with its powerful brushless motors that supply up to four horsepower combined, can carry a maximum of five people at about two to three miles per hour (check out a video here).
Though the group expressed desires to iterate on the design (such as improving the couch’s autonomous capability), I’d still call this summer project a ravishing success.
Here are some pictures of this beauty!