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Engineering students pull their weight

For weight-conscious Americans who are constantly on the go, accurately tracking body weight can be a tricky task given the lack of consistency between scales available at home, at the gym, at the doctor’s office and on vacation. They need a truly portable scale—just the solution that a team of Northeastern student researchers explored for their engineering capstone project, and one the project’s sponsor is now seeking to bring to the marketplace.

The student team—John Cogswell, Tom Peacock, Mike Apicella, Kareem Ghobrial, and Sean Kelly—was charged with devising a light, thin, flexible scale. They began work on the project last fall and presented their capstone in the spring.

See a video of the students’ project here.

Building off of the progress of a previous capstone project, the students developed a prototype utilizing sensors encased within a silicone mold. When someone steps on the scale, the sensors individually calculate voltage outputs that are then converted into weight based on specific calibrations for each sensor. The total weight is displayed on an LCD screen.

The battery-powered scale ideally could be recharged via a USB connection, which also allows for users to download and track weight data to their computers.

“If you could export the data to the computer, you could look at multiple users,” Apicella said.

The project’s sponsor, Louisa Serene, is a young entrepreneur who started her own online clothing business. Serene originally conceived the idea for the portable scale when she was a business school student at Columbia University in 2006. She later brought it to Northeastern’s College of Engineering, based on the capstone program’s strong reputation for solid research and development work.

Faculty advisor Sinan Muftu, an associate professor in the mechanical and industrial engineering department, was immediately intrigued by the project, due to his interest in the mechanics of flexible materials. It started as a capstone project in 2008 for another group of seniors, and Cogswell, Peacock, Apicella, Ghobrial and Kelly continued the work as part of a second phase.

Muftu said both groups made significant contributions to the scale’s development, and he and Serene believe the prototype is ready to take to the next step—into the marketplace.

“I think the coolest part about it is, for all of us as engineers, we are problem solvers,” Ghobrial said. “So to be able to come up with a product that allows you to measure your weight consistently with the same device each time, it really addresses an issue—especially with growing health concerns in America—that people are going to have a better understanding of what their true weight is.”

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