Active Stabilization of a Floating Wind Turbine Platform; Society’s Role in Wheelchair Technology and Accessibility

Dereberry, Daniel, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
JACQUES, RICHARD, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Momot, Michael, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

As a student in the STS 4500 course during this past summer session, I was tasked with creating my own proposed technical and STS report. I proposed new technical development of a supportive joint mechanism for people with physical disabilities which necessitate wheelchair usage, and STS research into the intertwining of wheelchairs with society. Following this, my technical project was changed to the development of an active mechanism for the stabilization of offshore wind turbine platforms, but I kept my STS project the same. The result is an STS research paper into the detailed relationship between wheelchairs and society, and a technical paper on offshore wind turbine stabilization, two very unrelated concepts. While these two areas of research do not directly inform each other, together they do show the wide breadth of influence on society one can have as a mechanical engineer.
In my STS research, I explored how when once wheelchairs were created by society to provide access to the world for those with disabilities, now wheelchairs are creating society through accessibility policy and areas built just for usage by wheelchairs. This was proven by looking at the history of wheelchairs as a technology, current wheelchair-related research, the history of accessibility policy surrounding wheelchairs, and the allocation of resources towards accessibility and wheelchair development. The framework of technological momentum was then utilized to further enlighten this issue. I found that not only has the wheelchair remained largely unchanged and undeveloped with very few dedicated resources for decades, but at the same time, hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on building the manmade world for access by wheelchairs. Despite this spending, wheelchair users still report a wide variety of wheelchair and accessibility related problems in their lives which I believe could be solved by reallocating resources towards wheelchair and supportive technology development, so wheelchairs and similar technologies can be cheaper, safer, and access more of the world on their own.
The technical portion of my project has produced an active mechanism for offshore wind turbine platform stabilization. Currently, the renewable energy community is looking for a good method of stabilizing deep-sea offshore wind farms. Current systems for offshore wind turbine flotation include chains which tie the platform down and prevent it from drifting away from its chosen location, and some form of passive stabilization (such as a low-hanging weight deep under water). My team analyzed the practicality of attaching these securing chains to motorized drums on the platform to tighten and loosen the chains as waves rock the platform. We utilized a small-scale platform prototype, built in prior years by UVA students, and attached our own mechanism to it for analysis. We used sensors to detect the tilting of the platform due to waves, and then used these values to calculate exactly how much to wind up or release each of the chains. We found that while it was difficult to show exactly how effective our small-scale design was, the idea was conceptually sound and could feasibly work for stabilization.
Through doing both the technical project and STS paper, it was made clear to me just how much influence mechanical engineers can have on society. With this great influence, it becomes all-the-more important to make ethical decisions and consider all the possible impacts of a design. While on the one hand it can make sense to build society for access by all people, it is important to also consider where money can be better spent to ensure this. Additionally, we must make sure that through the development of these new renewable energy methods, we are staying vigilant to not accidentally stumble into a worse method of energy production. If a stable platform is created that is extremely expensive, kills the fish, and impedes shipping lanes, all for a small amount of energy, then a grave mistake has been made.
I would like to acknowledge my teammates for my technical project (Matthew Metcalf, Christopher Murdock, Ryan Anderson, and Conner Steenrod) for their contributions, as well as my technical advisor, Dr. Momot. I would also like to thank the team of students which built the wind turbine platform prototype. Finally, I would like to acknowledge my two professors for STS 4500 and 4600, Dr. Laugelli and Dr. Jacques, for their guidance on my STS research and leadership through class ethics discussions.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
wind turbines, wheelchairs, wind energy, stabilization

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Michael Momot
STS Advisor: Richard Jacques
Technical Team Members: Ryan Anderson, Matthew Metcalf, Christopher Murdock, Conner Steenrod

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