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Capstone project leads to a career for engineering student

Spherical recon robot graphic

In the midst of a future war zone, an American special operations service member crouches behind a wall. Enemy forces lurk nearby, but how close are they and what weapons do they carry? From their rucksack, the service member pulls an orb no larger than a baseball. Tossing it through a doorway, it stealthily rolls over uneven terrain to capture reconnaissance data and relay it back in real-time to the service member, empowering them and their unit with crucial information.

This potentially life-saving technology may not be field ready just yet, but for Boise State alumnus Jim Shaver (BA, mechanical engineering, ‘19), designing it during his capstone course not only challenged him and put his talent to the test, it guided him to a career that could change lives.

The College of Engineering capstone experience is an important milestone in students’ academic and professional lives. Theories, formulas and textbook exercises must be put into action, and a newfound appreciation for strong group communication and project management evolves. Most profoundly, the support and participation of regional businesses and industry in the forms of both project funds and real-world challenges take this course far beyond the standard textbook assignment.

In Shaver’s case, Willowview Consulting, LLC provided just such an opportunity. The woman-owned small business from Eagle, led by president Layne Lewis, has been working with the College of Engineering in different capacities and were eager to sponsor a unique challenge for students.

Team of students look down at spherical robot on ground
Spherical robot team at the Dec. 2019 Capstone Design Showcase. Shaver is second from left, photo by Patrick Sweeney.

“I really do love the enthusiasm that I see with the students. I also like showing them how the work that they are doing can be directly associated with a customer need. It took me years after graduating with my aerospace engineering degree to get a real taste of the customer experience with something that I worked on. If I can help short-cut that process for some of our home team students…I say ‘let’s do it!’” said Lewis.

As a former team member in the NASA Micro-G Neutral Buoyancy Experimental Design Teams competition, as well as the NASA Student Opportunities in Airborne Research (SOAR) competition, Shaver was ready to apply his experience tackling complex challenges to the capstone. With four other team members, Shaver worked to design, build, 3D print and test the sphere robot.

“The idea for the long term product is a little like a baseball that an operator would throw into a door opening, or through a window. It would have a camera on it so that the operator could see what was in that room. If you were clearing a building as a special operator, you could see where a person was, or where a booby trap was first,” said Shaver.

Not only did the team design a lightweight (less than four pounds) robot prototype that could be conveniently carried, but it was also durable, capable of being thrown 30 feet, and surviving a 10-foot vertical drop.

However, the most remarkable element of the capstone was not actually the robot at all, but the creativity and ingenuity displayed by Shaver and his peers. While completing the year-long project, Shaver submitted his resume to Willowview Consulting, and within two months of graduation was offered a position. In Lewis’ words, “Jim’s enthusiasm and perseverance were infectious.”

Hnds holds shell of spherical robot, filled with electronics
Working on internal components of robot

As a junior mechanical engineer with Willowview Consulting, Shaver has the daily opportunity to put his passion through its paces by engineering solutions to protect and enhance human life.

“Boise State taught me to think like an engineer, to boil down problems to their basic forms and to solve problems analytically,” said Shaver. “I like being able to use my creativity along with the engineering skills I learned in school to build unique and interesting things.”