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Austin Burns, Jesse Talley and Ty Sickles pose with one of the LED lights installed on the Bishop campus.


Mechanical engineering students light the way

Since June, drivers on I-70 have seen something a little strange in the road. Solar-powered LED lights have replaced road reflectors on a small portion of the interstate outside of Idaho Springs. These lights are a step forward for driver safety and three students in the Colorado Mesa University–University of Colorado Boulder Mechanical Engineering Partnership Program are helping to find a cost-effective way to bring them to more areas.

Each fall, local businesses and organizations pitch projects to seniors in the mechanical engineering program. The class votes to select a few to work on in small groups over the course of the year. When Lightspeed Road Solar, the company developing the lights, explained that they wanted help streamlining their installation process, Jesse Talley, Austin Burns and Ty Sickles were intrigued.

“We were looking for something to apply our skills to, and this one had a lot of opportunity for mechanical engineering and design work,” Sickles said.

The company doesn’t have an established installation procedure, so the team videotaped two lights being installed on Western Colorado Community College’s Bishop Campus. As they looked into the process, they noticed something. “We felt like we could make the installation better if they had their light designed a little bit different,” said Sickles. “So they’re letting us run with that and try to come up with our own design.”

The trick is that they’ll have to keep costs down while maintaining the lights’ unique aspects. Each Lightspeed Road Solar light contains a solar-powered battery designed to last 10 years. They also sit flush with the road so snowplows won’t tear them out of the asphalt. “That’s the big thing that sets them apart,” said Talley. “There are a few other companies [making] LED lights to replace reflectors, but they usually sit above ground. [Lightspeed Road Solar is] hitting a niche market for areas that need snowplowing.”

Two months into the nine-month project, the team has identified what most needs to be changed. “The main redesign project is going to be the repositioning of the LED within the core itself,” Burns said. “We’ve been doing some preliminary tests on that, seeing what works best and gives the most light output, [trying] different configurations.”

The students meet weekly with Lightspeed Road Solar to keep them in the loop and will present a final recommendation in May. The project will be part of this year’s Student Showcase, as will the projects from the the other mechanical engineering groups. These projects focus on everything from extracting oil from seeds to make diesel fuel to developing nanotechnology for use in the medical field.

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Dana Nunn, Director of Media Relations

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