Annual Report 2019: Vimal Vishwanathan

A Teaching Tool for Free Body Diagram DrawingVimal Vishwanathan

Vimal Viswanathan is striving to change traditional classroom instruction with a focus on design thinking and design theory. His current project, Mechanix, is a virtual teaching assistant that provides realtime feedback to mechanical engineering students drawing free body diagrams, illustrations that demonstrate the force exerted when two bodies come into contact.

Free body diagrams are crucial tools, but many students are unable to accurately draw them. Due to classroom size, time restraints and an extensive curriculum, instructors are not always able to sit with individual students to provide direct and immediate feedback.

This is where Mechanix comes in. Mechanix uses a sketch recognition algorithm to detect the shape that a student draws on a touchscreen interface. After comparing the student’s work with the accurate answer, Mechanix’s virtual tutor provides immediate alerts for any incorrect forces or missing information in a student’s drawing. Rather than penalizing the student for errors, the virtual TA creates the space and dialogue for correction in real-time, resulting in a better understanding of how to solve the problem.

“I am very excited about this research as I get to see the results and improvements in my classroom," explains Viswanathan. "When the students find the tools and techniques that I develop useful in learning new concepts, it gives me the motivation to continue developing new ones and improving the existing ones.”


StudentMustafa Ihsan, ’20 Mechanical Engineering, creates a free body diagram with Mechanix.

PI: VIMAL VISWANATHAN
Mechanical Engineering, Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering

SPONSOR: National Science Foundation