Bucknell Wins Award For Robotic Snowboard Testing

LEWISBURG, Pa. < The Product Development Center (PDC) at Bucknell University's Small Business Development Center has earned the 2000 Star Performer Innovation Award from the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center for the second consecutive year.

The award was given for the PDC’s novel approach to the test and evaluation of snowboards. It is based on a statewide competition and recognizes innovative excellence for contributions to improved center performance.

According to John Politis, director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Bucknell, the snowboard project was one of the most challenging and rewarding projects undertaken by the center.

The project represents an excellent example of academia and private industry working together on a common goal. “Winning a statewide competition for two consecutive years is a real honor for our center and it reflects very positively on the caliber of Bucknell students and faculty,” said Politis.

Bucknell engineering students, under the leadership of engineering professors Steven Shooter and Keith Buffinton, worked with the York-based company Dimension Snowboard Manufacturing (formerly Walbridge Design and Manufacturing) to test and evaluate the dynamic forces on a snowboard. Students joined the Dimension staff at Seven Springs Resort to test the boards.

Equipped with backpack computers, students collected dynamic data via sensors on the snowboards. The students used the data to simulate the snowboard forces in a laboratory through the use of a robot, developed as part of a senior design project.

The students first designed a field test of Dimension’s current snowboards to find out what actually happens on the mountain. They mounted strain gauges, sensors and accelerometers on boards to measure strain and vibrations, and took the wired boards to the ski resort to see how the boards performed in various maneuvers on the slopes.

With the data collected in the field test, the students began to construct in the laboratory a robot that simulates the boards1 action on the slopes. The robot replaces the rider and gathers data at the same time, allowing for an engineering analysis of the boards in a laboratory environment.

Bucknell graduate student Christopher Nowakowski, who worked on the project last year as a senior mechanical engineering student, said the goal of the testing machine was to simulate snowboarding to enable quantitative comparisons between boards.

The desired snowboarding simulations included turning, stopping and jumping. The machine combines the dynamic testing of the field data with the control of the laboratory testing to conclusively evaluate a snowboard.

“The data provided from the snowboard simulator yields conclusive unbiased evaluations about the performance differences between snowboards, something no professional rider could guarantee,” said Nowakowski.

The PDC, which assists inventors and small firms in transforming their ideas into marketable products, is believed to be the only center of its kind in the nation housed in an engineering school. It combines traditional SBDC management services with the resources and expertise of an engineering department.

Facilities include a fully equipped machine shop, computer-aided drafting and machining equipment and state-of-the-art laboratories. Students work with faculty, staff and entrepreneurs to move ideas from the drawing board to the market. Services include patent searches, manufacturing support, prototype design and engineering analysis as well as development of a business strategy.

For more information on the Bucknell University PDC, call 570-577-1249 or visit their web site at www.bucknell.departments/sbdc.