Engineering students lend expertise to Apparatus X; crowdfunding campaign begins

Curtis Chan
April 04, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A student effort to build a mobile workshop to aid victims of natural disasters recently launched a campaign to complete the project.

The month-long campaign through the fundraising platform Indiegogo seeks to raise $15,000 at

The project, dubbed Apparatus X, is a recreation vehicle converted into a mobile workshop, tool trailer, design studio and micro-living unit. Apparatus X is designed to be self-sustaining and independent from the grid, and its design includes a solar power system, and water collection and purification system.

Led by architecture student Aaron Wertman, the work to design and build Apparatus X combines the efforts of students from the colleges of Arts and Architecture, Engineering, and Earth and Mineral Sciences. Among the 21 students on the team, four, including Wertman and Joshua Kessler  the team’s treasurer, are also also enrolled in the Schreyer Honors College.

Wertman, who's using the project as his master's thesis, said, "What originally inspired me was the slums in developing countries. Could the resourcefulness of places like that be replicated but better designed?

He began to research displaced populations and wondered if there might be something he could do closer to home. "What could I do here in the U.S.?”

Wertman's attention then turned to victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey.

Kessler, a mechanical and biomedical engineering student, said of New Orleans, "If you go down there, many houses are still not built."

So Wertman came up with the concept of a mobile workshop that could be driven to an area in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster. Once there, Apparatus X would rely on local materials to aid in rebuilding, rather than hauling goods down.

"We're planning on using reclaimed materials, hoping to decrease the cost of building," he stated. "We're looking at using construction waste to help build new homes."

According to Kessler, the project has already gained sponsorship from a number of sources. "We already have $3,000 from IBM and $2,000 from Boeing."

The team purchased an old trailer that's already been stripped down to the wheels and foundational platform. As the weather begins to warm, the students will begin framing Apparatus X out and outfitting it with its different modules.

Senior engineering students are designing and building Apparatus X's water gathering and filtration system for their capstone design project while Engineers for a Sustainable World are leading the power system efforts, including the trailer's solar panels, inverter and power core.

Total budget for the project, Wertman estimated, is about $20,480 with a goal of completing the trailer's construction by August, when Wertman graduates.

Once complete, the Danville, Pa., native plans on driving Apparatus X to New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward.

Wertman has been in contact with local officials about how he and Apparatus X can assist.

"There's not a specific project right now that I'm targeting. I'm not intending to roll in and be like, 'Where's the house?'" he said. Rather, his goal is to become a member of the community, listen to the local residents and assist in responsible community design and rebuilding efforts.

"I keep telling myself this is more than a prototype machine, but a prototype for community engagement."

Last Updated April 08, 2014