James King with his Medi-Pod prototype.

James King, Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year

During his time as a student James King helped develop a pod which could transport blood and organs to the point of need via a drone aircraft and won Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Award.

James King, 22, graduated from his BEng mechanical engineering course at Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland in June this year. During his third year he led a multi-disciplinary business and engineering mini-project team comprising Aoife O’Donovan, Jeremiah Brennan, Michael Aherne, Tim Murphy and Damian Ahern to develop a pod, which could transport blood and organs to the point of need via a drone aircraft. He continued developing the idea as his fourth and final year mechanical engineering capstone project.

The Drone Compatible Medical Transportation Pod Design won him first place and the title of Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year (Level 8) in 2014 Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Finals, sponsored by Siemens. The project has also been entered in this year’s James Dyson Award, which aims to celebrate, encourage and inspire the next generation of designers. He talks to Student/Early Career about how he enjoys to rising to a challenge and the inspiration for Medi-Pod.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in engineering?

It was probably a combination of watching the TV programmes How It’s Made and Biker Build-off. Between the two of them it got me on the right road. I was also good at maths, applied maths and physics so I was steered that way by [careers] guidance and then the mechanical engineering course really struck a chord with me when I heard about it.

What are you doing at the moment?

I’ve just started working at Dublin City University and am involved in researching a range of college-initiated innovation projects with a view to bringing them on to the prototyping stages. I'm currently working on a novel medical device funded by Enterprise Ireland and being supervised by Dr Caitríona Lally BEng, MEng, PhD, MIEI. I had three opportunities to go into the manufacturing sector but I don’t see myself there at the moment. This is very much where I want to be.

At the moment Medi-Pod is on hold as I don’t have all related skills to patent it or have the necessary finance behind it. This will give me experience of the commercial realisation stage of a project and help me to learn the ropes.

How did the Medi-Pod project come about?

My dad works in the ambulance service in London and I had a conversation with him about how ambulances have to transport blood and organs. It made me think about alternative forms of transportation and then I started researching this area. I found that in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001-2011, just under 5,000 deaths had occurred and a study found that just over 25 per cent of these were potentially survivable if aid (equipment and expertise) had got to the injured soldier. So it made me think about transport options that didn’t require humans and I came up with the idea of using a drone.

In the third year mini-project, we brought it to general concept and proving stage and then in the fourth year I undertook major research, analysis, prototype development and experimentation work. This included taking it for a test flight on model aeroplanes and copters.

Can you briefly describe the product?

It looks like a teardrop and is designed to sit on the undercarriage of a fixed wing plane. It’s around 200mm long, 140mm thick and weighs just under 0.8kg when fully built. It’s designed to keep the inside at a constant temperature despite a variable temperature outside. I’d love to turn it into a product on the market but there’s a long way to go and it would also depend on drone aircraft technology and the laws that exist to fly them in the respective countries.

What were among your biggest technical challenges personally?

Actually using the software at the testing stage as I hadn’t done that before. My friend was developing a boat and we both had to test them in a wind tunnel, carrying out the various calculations with the software.

What are your longer-term ambitions?

I really like coming up with ideas and bringing them on so I’d like to stay where I am at the moment and hope to do my master’s after a year or two and reach Chartered Engineer status and then see what happens.

What do you love most about engineering?

It’s the challenge. I like pushing myself and trying to do something no one else has done. If you can think of something you can probably make it so why not give yourself a challenge? I really enjoyed the project work on the course. It is nice to go away and figure out stuff for yourself rather than just being told what to do.

What advice would you give to young engineering students?

Enjoy it and learn how to work as a team. Bouncing ideas off classmates is the best way to go through college. One of the hardest things can be finding your place in a team. You must learn when to stand back and let others do their part and not try to take over. Also sign up for projects and competitions. It might involve a bit of extra work but I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t won the award.

How do you switch off from engineering?

My girlfriend and friends help me to do that. I love movies and TV. I also play Magic: The Gathering [the trading card game] and get to travel for competitions, which is challenging but truly enjoyable. I’ve also spent the last six summers working at a camp for children with special needs, which I’ve really enjoyed.

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