Student team takes top prize in HP, Intel Design Challenge with Muscle Maximus

Credit: Lisa Qian/ Credit: Lisa Qian/

Students from different colleges across Carnegie Mellon have won the top prize in HP and Intel’s Design Challenge: Life in Space. Their design was a wearable exercise system that alleviates symptoms of microgravity, such as muscle atrophy, for astronauts.

The team consisted of biomedical engineering masters students Deepshikha Acharya, Vishaal Dhamotharan, architecture masters student Cecilia Ferrando, and mechanical engineering masters students Kevin Wang and Eugene Yu. The team was helped by Physics Department faculty member, Diane Turnshek.

Eight top engineering schools in the U.S. were given seven weeks to create teams and design a manufacturable product to make life better for astronauts. There were three phases of submission for the competition that included computer-aided design files, design overview content, and videos about the teams and their projects. The team began work on “Muscle Maximus,” the name of their system, in January using the same hardware that the International Space Station and NASA use to assist astronauts in space, the HP ZBook Studio Mobile Workstations.

Muscle Maximus is made up of three parts and uses Velcro to fasten them. It supports knee and elbow joints, shoulders, and the upper back. The joint braces for the elbows and knees provide resistance using a fin that moves through a viscous fluid when the joint is extended. The ball-and-socket at the shoulder introduces resistance through the interaction of micro-patterned rough surface of the socket and the ball. Finally, there are elastic bands along the spine and around the shoulders and waist filled with viscous fluid that offer resistance to the upper back and shoulder blades.

“All of the current exoskeleton systems use electricity, and we didn’t like that,” Yu said in a university press release about the project. Seeking to fill the gap for a mechanical system, the team’s design is self-sustaining and uses mechanical resistance to provide a force of Earth’s gravity.

While astronauts face a lot of adversity in space, the issues caused by microgravity have effects that stay with them after their return to Earth. “Muscle atrophy induced by microgravity is one of the leading health concerns for astronauts in space,” Acharya said. The team hopes to see their design not only implemented onboard the International Space Station but also working here on Earth to help people with health issues that cause muscle atrophy.

The team was not alone in recognizing the need for a mechanical, self-sustaining solution to the problem of muscle atrophy astronauts face. “While Muscle Maximus was regarded as innovative, impactful and a top choice by HP, NASA and Intel judges, the winner was ultimately decided by public voting,” Turnshek said. She also recognized the importance of interdisciplinary work for this project. “The competition win shines a spotlight on our bright, hard-working students and on our caring, connected community.”

“This was a great learning experience, and it feels amazing to win,” Acharya reflected. The prize includes an HP ZBook Studio Mobile Workstation with the Thunderbolt 3 dock for each participant, including Turnshek, a four day trip to Orlando to visit Cape Canaveral and Epcot Center, and $1000.