Fashion Students Design PPE for Fermilab’s Boston Dynamics Spot Robot

By: Angela Mennecke

COD students fit PPE on Spot the Robot

When deciding to pursue Fashion Studies at College of DuPage, Rahaf Damra never thought she would be tasked with designing protective gear for a robot. Much less, Fermilab’s recently acquired Boston Dynamic Spot robot.

“It’s not what you typically come to fashion school for, but it’s been an absolutely amazing experience,” she said.

Damra, along with a small group of Fashion Studies students and COD Fashion Studies Professor Eva Stevens, are working in collaboration with Fermilab, a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory, to design Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Spot who works in radioactive and contaminated areas.

Fermilab’s Engineering Physicist Adam Watts said that when they had the idea of getting PPE for Spot, they knew they needed to bring in the experts to design a prototype that could then be manufactured at Fermilab.

“We always gravitate towards working with students because they bring in energy and creativity to the job that we just can’t,” he said. “Fermilab already had a strong working relationship with COD, so we knew we would be getting the best and the brightest minds.”

I never, never thought Fermilab and the COD Fashion Studies program would be partners. It was such a unique opportunity.

Eva Stevens, COD Fashion Studies Professor

After a trip to see Spot at Fermilab to get measurements and specifications, the students got to work.

“Spot has a camera, sensors and air returns for keeping cool so all of these areas had to be considered,” said Damra. “Spot is also limber and has pinch points at his elbows and joints connected to his body so that added another level of complication.”

After many months of working on prototypes on a makeshift cardboard box, Spot came to COD for a final fitting. The final prototype consists of Tyvek PPE held together with tape, staples and rivets.

“We had to think about how the robot would bend in it, how the shoulders would attach and how it would fit around the body,” said Fashion Studies student Lauren Evans. "Seeing the robot in person has been really great so we can make any last updates and tweaks before we draw up our final plans.”

Stevens said that from a creativity standpoint, she couldn’t have asked for a better project for her students.

“There’s so many things that happen when a design student has a complex problem to solve,” she said. “When working on a garment for a human body, they’re used to that, but now they have to take all that knowledge and transform it for a robot, something that’s hard and something that has really specific requirements. Their critical thinking skills were taxed.”

Never in Stevens’ storied career as a fashion designer and professor did she think her paths would cross with a science laboratory.

“I never, never thought Fermilab and the COD Fashion Studies program would be partners,” she said. “It was such a unique opportunity, and I was so thankful that they reached out to us. Hopefully this opens the doors for further collaboration.”

Pictured left to right: COD Fashion Studies Professor Eva Stevens, Fermilab Engineering Physicist Adam Watts and COD Fashion Studies student Lauren Evans.