Since 2008, the Precision Systems Design Lab has developed a successful synergistic partnership with the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum, which encourages children to discover and enjoy the wonders of science, math and technology via hands-on exhibits. The graduate and undergraduate students from PSDL, along with Prof. Awtar, have offered interactive lectures and demonstrations at the museum, and have created new exhibits for the museum galleries. Not only does this introduce young children to the multi-disciplinary and 'intelligent' nature of modern technology in an exciting and interactive manner, it also allows University of Michigan students to engage with the local community and make a direct societal impact. The following are some examples of this work.

Self Balancing Scooters

Graduate student teams in M552 (Mechatronic Systems Design) built full-size fully-functional two-wheeled self-balancing transporter like the Segway scooter and GM's concept vehicle EN-V. Starting from scratch and working with a budget of $1700 per team, student teams delivered professional-grade hardware by the end of the class.

One of the several "M-Way" scooters that resulted from this class is currently on loan at the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum where it is used to offer rides to visiting children and introduce them to the multi-disciplinary nature of modern technology.

Inverted Pendulum Balancing System

Student teams in the senior capstone design class ME450 (Design and Manufacturing III) worked with Prof. Awtar in Winter 2011 to conceive, design, and create an Inverted Pendulum balancing system exhibit for the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum.

This interactive exhibit balances a free pendulum in its inverted position using a motor controlled arm, sensors that provide angular measurements, and feedback controls implemented on a microprocessor. The goal is to show children how the simple act of balancing a stick on a finger-tip can be accomplished via computerized control. This serves as a companion exhibit to the self-balancing M-Way scooter, which embodies the same underlying physical and mathematical principles as the inverted pendulum.

Since its installation, this exhibit has become very popular with the museum's visitors and won an Editor's award at the Maker Faire event held at the Henry Ford in Dearborn MI.

Ball on Plate Balancing System

In Winter 2012, yet another ME450 team in Prof. Awtar's section designed and built a Ball-on-Plate balancing system for the museum. It is tricky to keep a ball balanced at the center of a plate that is held manually. The slightest tip or tilt of the plate causes the ball to roll off. The Ball-on-Plate mechatronic exhibit accomplishes this goal via automatic controls. Sensors measure the actual ball position on the plate and actuators continuously adjust the tip and tilt of the plate to keep the ball centered. Other modes of control include commanding the ball to trace a linear, circular, and figure-eight shaped paths.

Subtractive versus Additive Manufacturing Exhibit

In Winter 2013, an ME450 team in Prof. Awtar's section designed and built a hands-on interactive exhibit that highlights the difference between Subtractive and Additive manufacturing. The project was sponsored and supervised by Prof. Kira Barton, also in Mechanical Engineering, and exposes children to the emerging field of additive manufacturing via simple but functional building blocks that can be assembled to demonstrate the unique advantages and attributes of Additive Manufacturing.


The PSDL designed, fabricated, and installed a version of the Inverted Pendulum exhibit in the ME department main lobby (picture). This interactive exhibit has been popular with people passing by the lobby (students, parents, teachers, faculty, etc.) and provides instruction as well as entertainment. This portable, interactive exhibit is often loaned out for various Outreach events across the campus. In November 2012, we collaborated with the Center of Engineering Diversity and Outreach (CEDO) in the College of Engineering to display this Inverted Pendulum exhibit and as well as the M-way balancing scooters at theYouth Engineering and Science (YES) Expo at the Ford Field, Detroit MI. The YES Expo was attended by thousands of K-12 students from the Detroit area and public schools. According to CEDO, "The inverted pendulum was a complete hit at the YES Expo. Coupled with the working M-way scooters we had on hand, it is THE "display" we had that garnered the greatest attention."


The PSDL has collaborated with with the local area inventor and entrepreneur Timothy Jones on the Whirlydoodle project. The Whirlydoodle is a micro-electric wind turbine that creates beautiful twirling colors at night, using only wind energy. It's a great way to raise awareness and spark dialog about alternative energy. PSDL provides engineering support to improve the design, efficiency, and robustness of these micro-turbines while reducing manufacturing costs.

Whirlydoodle installations can be seen all around downtown Ann Arbor as public art as seen in the above pictures, which have been reproduced from the Whirleydoodle official website.