Chill Out—Students Partner with Industry on Wearable Cooling Device

 Bush Technical Team

May 15, 2019

While many people work in climate-controlled buildings, certain jobs require workers to toil in oppressive heat. Military personnel, firefighters, construction workers, and many others don’t have many good options for keeping cool in their line of work.

This spring, a team of Syracuse University mechanical engineering students completed a senior capstone project to help solve this problem by designing a wearable system that provides “personal cooling.”  The battery-powered system, a portable micro-chiller, will be compact and lightweight. Affixed to a worker’s belt, it will connect to a tube-lined vest worn close to the wearer’s skin. Water circulates through the vest where it draws heat from the wearer and then through the micro-chiller where it is continually cooled. The team designed the system to operate up to four hours on a single battery charge and provide the wearer with temperature control through a smartphone app. They aim to create a product that will sell for under $2,000.

The students’ work is the second phase of a three-year project for Bush Technical, a one-man technical consulting and contracting company that specializes in compressor technology. With his operations headquartered in the Syracuse Center of Excellence (SyracuseCoE), Bill Bush oversees the students’ efforts and provides the micro-compressor technology that makes their design possible.

Under the advisement of Bush and their faculty advisor Associate Professor Shalabh Maroo, this year’s student team advanced the project by designing a “breadboard” prototype and conducting experiments that demonstrated that their concept could work. This year’s work was completed by Matthew Barni ’19, Chaohe Chen ’19, Joseph DePalma ’19, Molly Donovan ’19, Sarah Mathison ’19, and Elton Zhang ’19.

“I’ve seen engineers design a great system that can’t be realistically made and scaled,” said Bush. “With the working unit this team built, we can develop our parameters, uncover limitations, and gather the data to inform how to run a real system that can be built and rebuilt at a reasonable cost.”

Bush established his relationship with Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science through a research partnership with Emeritus Professor H. Ezzat Khalifa. Khalifa turned to Bush to develop a tiny micro-scroll compressor for a project sponsored by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to develop an innovative distributed personalized environmental control system for office spaces.

Bush said, “When Dr. Khalifa first told me what he wanted me to design, I didn’t think it would perform. We gave it a try, and we actually beat our target by 17 percent. This started with a sketch on a napkin, and now we’re contemplating a factory design to produce these.”

The wearable personal micro-chiller that the students designed relies on a similar system.

Bush hopes that next year, a new team of mechanical engineering seniors will be tasked with creating a functional prototype of the personal micro-chiller that is small enough to be worn comfortably. There will also be an opportunity for computer science students to develop an application that controls the device.

Bush is also an adjunct professor in ECS, teaching senior design lab sessions. Given his experience and involvement with Khalifa’s high-profile research, Bush located his company’s operations in SyracuseCoE’s cutting-edge research facility. Last year, Bush Technical won funding from SyracuseCoE’s Innovation Fund that supported a team of mechanical engineering students who completed a capstone design project that focused on manufacturing the micro-scroll compressor. Bush Technical is an exemplar of SyracuseCoE’s mission to connect companies with students and faculty to develop new technologies.

Both Bush and his students, speak positively about the project’s potential and the experience. From providing authentic engineering experience for the students and skilled labor for a small local tech company, the partnership offers clear benefits for everyone involved as well as an opportunity for innovation to bloom.

“By getting paired with an actual company, it definitely simulates working in the real world. This project was almost a mini-internship,” said Donovan. “It’s been a really cool experience.”

No pun intended.