Yakski: An Electric Waterjet Propulsion System; A Utilitarian Ethical Analysis of the Engineering Decisions Behind Hurricane Katrina

Ramirez, Jonathan, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Garner, Gavin, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

In the following Technical Report, I will delineate the process in which a team of myself and fellow Fourth Year mechanical engineering students designed a mounted water jet system meant to be outfitted onto the back of a kayak. Subsequently, my STS Research Paper will investigate the ethics behind the well known engineering ethics case of Hurricane Katrina and the floodwalls of the hurricane protection system in New Orleans at the time of its landfall. The two are related in that my technical work aimed to introduce a technology that would expand the means of exploration and entertainment for a group of people who might otherwise be limited in their means to do so, while my STS research showed how important it is to fully examine the resulting pains and pleasures of any technical work. While my STS research and technical work differ in subject, the ethical approaches discussed in my STS Research Paper were used to help shape my technical project and better understand its impact on society.
My Technical Report illustrates the process by which my team and I designed, prototyped, modified and assembled a dual motor water jet system that mounted onto the back of a kayak and hoped to integrate a mechatronic steering system to eliminate the need for any paddling. The project, called the Yakski, was divided into five interdependent subsystems: the water jets, propulsion powering system, steering system, mounting frame, and user interface. These subsystems used the integration of 3D modelling software, 3D printing and mechatronics to take the Yakski from its design stages to functionality. The Yakski hoped to provide a means of water exploration to those who would not be able to do so without it and to inspire future engineers to continue to make socially conscious technological advancements.
My STS Research Paper aims to provide a better ethical understanding of the construction process of the hurricane protection system of New Orleans, whose flaws came into full display when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on New Orleans in 2005. I argued that the Army Corps of Engineers, who designed and constructed the hurricane protection system, should be held ethically responsible for their complacency in the engineering malpractices that were shown in the construction process. I used the ethical reasoning of utilitarianism to analyze the nature of the pains and pleasures of the consequences of the Army Corps of Engineers’ actions. This type of ethical approach can and should be used in all engineering projects in order to gain a better perspective as to their potential effects on society and thus result in more ethically responsible technologies.
Working on these two projects enabled me to approach my technical project in a way that was more socially aware of its resulting consequences than the approach I would have taken had I not been working on my STS research. The result was a technical project that integrated features that were configured to a wider range of potential users. More importantly, my work served to set a template for a career long standard practice of considering the ethical and social implications of each of my engineering projects from this point forward.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Hurricane Katrina, Engineering, Ethics, Waterjet, Water jet

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Gavin Garner
STS Advisor: Benjamin Laugelli
Technical Team Members: Justin Allen, Colin Allison, Julianna Chaput, Miles Coe, David Gordon, Brian Lithen, Troy Meurer, Jonathan Ramirez, Bryce Shelton

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