About our Project: Mekanix

In their first semester, mechanical and civil engineering students learn the fundamental concepts of engineering.  A large portion of the time spent in these introductory classes is devoted to solving statics problems.  Statics problems usually require the student to draw free body diagrams and planar truss diagrams.

A free body diagram can be used to analyze all of the internal and external forces acting on an object, while a planar truss diagram is simply a two dimensional representation of a structure.  This type of structure is constructed from physical beams and joints.  Joints, also referred to as nodes, are located at the intersection of two or more beams and are the location where external forces may act upon the object.  Furthermore, these external forces create member forces within each individual beam by tension or compression of the beam.

Trusses are used as supports in many structures such as bridges, houses, and other buildings.  An excellent foundation of how to construct a truss is critical for a student’s success as an engineer in the future.

In current practice, the most effective method for learning how to construct a truss is to draw the truss along with the forces acting upon it on pen and paper.  This method works best when an active learning approach is taken, that is, a learner should be engaged and cognitively active while learning.  Timely feedback should be given to the learner when a mistake is made to prevent the learner from adding false information into their knowledge framework.

While this method seems ideal, the large class sizes of introductory engineering courses prevents hand-drawn solutions from being used often because of time commitment involved in grading and providing feedback to the students.  To combat these time constraints, multiple choice questions are the primary source of testing.  In these courses, students are likely to receive only one or two hand-drawn assignments a semester. 

To stimulate the educational value of these courses, the need for a better method of grading these hand-drawn truss diagrams is necessary.  Hand-drawn homework problems, such as truss diagrams, afford themselves the use of sketch recognition as a solution. Mekanix, our sketch recognition software, allows a user to freely draw any combination of strokes and attempts to recognize and interpret what the user intended by the sketch. Mekanix compares the student-drawn sketch with the instructor key sketch and provides immediate incremental feedback on the correctness of the sketch.