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Group Designs Olympic Trainer

By Ifung Lu

Five mechanical engineering undergraduates won an intercollegiate design contest last month for their design of a rowing machine attachment that will be used by athletes training for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Team members Mark Hytros '94, Andrew Millville '94, Gloria Ro '94, Aoy Tomita '93, and John Vanhouton '94 submitted a design for a lightweight attachment for the Concept II ergonometer, a rowing machine. The contest was sponsored by the Sports Science and Technology Committee of the United States Olympic Committee.

The winning design was selected by its usefulness to athletes in training for the 1996 Olympics. "I was actually kind of surprised that we made it to the finals. I underestimated the design. It was a simple design," Hytros said.

Other schools' designs included weight-lifting equipment, a quick-release ski boot, and a modified oar for kayaking, Vanhouton said.

The students worked on the project as part of Elements of Mechanical Design (2.72) last term and were selected as finalists during the summer. Vanhouton, Hytros, and Ro traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo., in mid-September to present their design to the USOC committee.

Tulane University, Cooper Union, Layfayette College, and the University of Vermont placed second through fifth, respectively.

Machine better simulates rowing

In the standard rowing machine, "you pull straight back in a linear motion," Vanhouton said. "Our attachment better models the sweep. I row and we saw this as a better way to practice during the winter months. You do lose technique over winter."

"Regular machines build up only strength. We attached an oar to the base so you can practice both technique and strength. You're not changing any of the motion," Ro said.

"We had worked on the biomechanics of the design," Vanhouton said. "Many of the other groups had good designs but changed the way the athlete did things."

Each team prepared a half-hour presentation for the USOC committee, which was followed by an intense question and answer session with leaders of sport technology fields.

"When I first found out that I had to give a thirty minute presentation, I was kind of nervous. But I was definitely excited," Ro said.

"After listening to the answer and question sessions, I was pretty confident that we were up there" in the rankings, Vanhouton said.

This whole process of designing the attachment from start to finish has given the team members more confidence in their abilities as engineers.

"It definitely gives you a boost in the arm. I can actually survive as a designer with a real design," said Hytros.

"It definitely gives you encouragement that you can be real engineers. We saw something through from our initial design to the final product. We can really be successful out there. That's what great about MIT. You get this hands-on experience," Ro said.

The members of the design team plan to market their attachment. Although the USOC and Olympic athletes can use the design for free, the team members own the design.

"This is a good design. We don't want to let it die," Hytros said.