It was the perfect project for industrial design students, because it blends physical, emotional, and social elements, Sullivan said.
“It’s really important to bring Ut Prosim into our classroom,” she said. “They [students] need to feel like what they do can really help people. It’s a soft skill that often gets overlooked in the classroom.”
The students went to work, initially creating 11 prototypes for the trike. Then, the pandemic closed much of the campus labs and delayed the project.
Still, in the summer of 2020, three of Sullivan’s students took on the project themselves. Using one of the prototypes, they built a wooden cabinet to fit on the back of the tricycle for storing coffee supplies and hot water heaters. They also worked on other features, such as stabilizing the heaters and ensuring that coffee could be served from both sides of the cabinet.
Oriana Nordt, one of the design students, said completing the project was important.
“It’s a change that we could potentially make in people’s lives,” she said. “That’s why people are drawn into industrial design, because we see an opportunity for our products to make a difference. This was one of the first opportunities where that difference was right here, and we were able to see it firsthand.”
The bike project is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through an Inclusive Excellence grant to Virginia Tech. The Inclusive Excellence program aims to foster the success of all students in science, especially those from diverse pathways.
With this grant, Sullivan said she hopes to create coffee bike kits, complete with materials and a design plan, for other universities to use who want to build similar java-serving bikes. This is one of many projects that represent industrial design’s commitment to improving healthcare in the region.
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