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Research Theme - Design

Design is Pervasive in Mechanical Engineering

Virtually all faculty members in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford are involved in some form of design activity.

Some actively design and manufacture devices or products; others study the design process including team design and team learning, a traditional strength in our design curriculum. In addition, we develop tools to facilitate the creation of engineering products at a variety of scales and complexity. We interpret the word "design" widely, reflecting the broad value systems we cultivate in the Department. We also believe that a better understanding of societal needs, aided by association with social sciences, will further assure the relevance of the fields we choose to work in. 

Where Can You Work on Design?

The department's Design Group, which contributes many faculty to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, provides the nexus for the creation and understanding of successful design processes. Numerous faculty in the Mechanics and Computation Group and the Flow Physics and Computation Group are developing the next generation of simulation capabilities for mechanical, fluidic and biological systems. In the Thermosciences Group, there is much research on the design of thermal and energy conversion systems ranging from thermoelectric and solar energy converters to clean coal. Finally, there is a long tradition of the simulation, characterization and design of biomedical structures in the Biomechanical Engineering Program.

Broadening the Requirements Envelope

In the past, Design Engineering's primary concern has been with "feasibility"—our traditional and technically oriented approach to problem solving. As we are asked to be more innovative in today's commercial/industrial environment, it becomes critical that we weigh in on "usability," "viability" and "desirability" as well. The usability of products is obviously becoming more valued and requires us to focus much more strongly on human values in addition to technical requirements. Understanding the viability of the products and services we are responsible for creating requires better understanding of business principles in order to focus on appropriate solutions that will ensure that our designs will make it out into the world. Desirability requires an empathy for the social context and meaning of products.

Human-Centered Design

The human-centered design approach requires us to collaborate with and understand more fully the approach of social scientists in the cognitive psychology, sociology and cultural anthropology fields. Our challenge and opportunity after developing expertise in the social sciences is to understand human values and needs to nearly the same extent that we understand technical and analytical issues. This allows us to design products, services and experiences that people truly value as individuals and as a culture. The change to a human-centered design methodology is quite profound; instead of inspiration coming primarily from new technical advancements that we are trying to exploit, we take the approach of studying and observing humans to understand their wants and latent needs. We are therefore able to design a more appropriately satisfying solution that makes a difference.
Thursday, June 2, 2016 - 09:30 to 17:00
Hewlett Teaching Center 200 & Peterson Building Atrium

Free To General Public

Celebrate student design project work at EXPE!

Stanford's Mechanical Engineering Design Group invites you to join us as we celebrate our students' creative work in design research, design practice, engineering, and manufacturing.

The Stanford Design EXPErience is a unique, once-a-year opportunity to meet with students, faculty and industry colleagues. This year brings you an expansive range of participating courses, faculty, and students from a broad cross section of design thinking activities at Stanford:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 15:00 to 16:15
MERL 203

Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering
Joint Special Seminar

Saturday, June 11, 2016 - 13:30 to 16:30
Bishop Auditorium (1st Flr of Lathrop Library)

Open to the public. No RSVP required.

Come experience design thinking through the innovative work of the Stanford Graduate Design Program, Class of 2016.  Join us as each student shares the projects and passions that have engaged them over the last two years. Afterwards, enjoy food, drink and conversation at our Design Loft for an informal gathering and celebration.
Masters Presentations
Saturday, June 11, 2016, 1:30 - 4:30 p.m.
Bishop Auditorium (inside the Lathrop Library)
518 Memorial Way
Stanford, CA 94305
Saturday, June 11, 2016, 4:30 - 6:30 p.m.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Ferrari, a lovebird, with Stanford's David Lentink, who is using a wind tunnel to probe the mysteries of birds in flight. | Photo by L.A. Cicero

Friday, March 18, 2016 - 14:00
Peterson Building, Room 200 (550-200)


Light refreshments preceed the talk at 1:45

Monday, March 14, 2016 - 15:30 to 16:45
Packard 101

Open to the public

Multi-robot systems are poised for impact in the future of robotics.  Robots will work together on factory floors to make manufacturing more efficient and cost effective, they will coordinate as our teammates during rescue missions in disaster zones, and they will be our eyes in places that we cannot reach such as in space and on other planets.  However, in order for multi-robot systems to reach the goals that we’ve set for them, they must be able to perform one particular task very reliably: information exchange.  Information exchange is essential for coordination with humans and with othe

Monday, March 7, 2016 - 16:15
Building 550 Atrium

Author & educator Barry Katz will be giving the keynote lecture “Design Thinking & Design Practice” for the Hasso Plattner Design Thinking Research Program on Monday MAR 7 @ 4:15pm, Bldg 550 atrium. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Shelley, Stanford's autonomous Audi TTS, on the track at Thunderhill Raceway north of Sacramento, Calif. | Stanford News Service/Steve Fyffe


When Stanford's autonomous car Shelley nears speeds of 120 mph as it tears around a racetrack without a driver, observers' natural inclinations are to exchange high-fives or simply mouth, "wow."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 - 13:30 to 14:50
Bruan Lecture Hall (in the Mudd Chemistry Building, next door to the Braun Auditorium)

Open to the public

Recent technological advances have given way to a new generation of versatile legged robots.  These machines are envisioned to replace first responders in disaster scenarios and enable unmanned exploration of distant planets. To achieve these aims, however, our robots must be able to manage physical interaction through contact to move through unstructured terrain.  This talk reports on the development of control systems for legged robots to achieve unprecedented levels of dynamic mobility by addressing many critical problems for contact interaction with the environment.

Monday, February 22, 2016 - 13:30 to 14:50
Bruan Lecture Hall (in the Mudd Chemistry Building, next door to the Braun Auditorium)

Open to the public

Given a stream of raw, multi-modal sensory input data, an autonomous robot has to continuously make decisions on how to act for achieving a specific task. This requires the robot to map a very high-dimensional space (sensory data) to another high-dimensional space (motor commands). The non-linear relationship between these can only be captured if we introduce suitable biases and task-specific prior knowledge that structures this mapping. At the same time, these biases have to provide enough flexibility to cope with the expected variability in the robot task.


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