WESTFORD -- Mowing the lawn is nobody's favorite chore. You either have to make sure you have enough gas or have a long enough extension cord, or, with the old-fashioned models, push the mower around.
But what if all you needed to power an electric mower was the power of the sun? No need to run to the gas station. That's what students in the Engineering Academy at Nashoba Valley Technical High School and a team from UMass Lowell have been working on together.
UML Professor Sam Mil'shtein and three of his Electrical Engineering students, led by Mukhammaddin Zinaddinov, recently partnered on the project, with the UML contingent visiting the high school on a weekly basis.
It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.
"They really mentored the kids in sophisticated mechanical topics, like solar energy, battery storage and electric motor technology," Jeffrey Scheminger, Engineering Technology instructor at Nashoba Tech, said of the UML students. "And the age difference is really only a few years, so it was good to see our kids be able to work with those guys. It was a nice dynamic."
The solar-mower project was a continuation of a partnership between the two institutions, which collaborated on a solar-powered car several years ago.
The most recent alliance involved students from both schools designing and constructing the solar-electric lawn tractor. With their UML mentors, Nashoba Tech students developed concept sketches, prototypes and 3-D model.
Ultimately, a fully functioning lawn tractor was designed, constructed and tested.
Scheminger said the project was an excellent learning experience for the Nashoba Tech students, many of whom are interested in pursuing careers in engineering and vehicle design.
"The UML students worked closely with Nashoba Tech's students and developed an excellent team approach to learning and problem-solving," Scheminger said.
Propulsion for the mower was achieved using a hub motor. Battery selection and solar-panel technology were integral parts of the project. The frame, designed using Autodesk Inventor and fabricated from tubular aluminum, was analyzed for strength and stress.
Both Scheminger and Mil'shtein look forward to more collaboration between the schools in the future.
"I have been to several high schools," Mil'shtein said, "and Nashoba Tech is not only the best technical school I have seen, it's the best high school."