Building a Better Pooper Scooper


Daniel Spangler’s A Dog’s Dream, day care and food for dogs, had big problems last year.

An inspector quoted the New Bern entrepreneur and dog lover for having a rusty Pooper Scooper, a violation of State Department of Agriculture guidelines. It frustrated Spangler, who would spend countless hours servicing the metal shovels and replacing them with hundreds of dollars year after year.

He started thinking about everything else that bothered him about available dog litter removers. The way the springy prongs on the rake bounced stray bits back onto his shoes. The way each jet of water was hard enough to clean the device soaked everything around it too. The way his wrist ached after picking up and dumping 30-50 pounds of feces every day.

After learning about The Wond’ry Entrepreneurship Center and Makerspace at Vanderbilt University, Spangler decided to see if someone could help there. Making director Kevin Galloway and his students could – and did. On March 14th, they presented the Scooper of the Future, which they would like to patent and market for dog houses, boarding schools and families with only many dogs.

“If I hadn’t turned to The Wond’ry, it would still be a drawing on a napkin,” Spangler said. “Maybe not even that.”

Galloway’s class is how to do (almost) anything, and students flock to it with majors from different disciplines. Spencer Ray, mechanical engineering major, and Caitlin Allison, electrical engineering major, attended last week’s unveiling.

Ray said he did the design and 3D printing of new parts and was most excited about the two-sided rake – forked for solid waste and flat for soft. “I didn’t know how to do this at first, but we used a foamcore prototype and then moved on to metal,” he said. “I was glad I was used because my dad and I joked earlier in life that there had to be a better way.”

Allison said it expanded its engineering capabilities to support prototyping and test iterations of the Scooper rather than applying its electrical engineering knowledge to a high-tech device.

“Working with an actual client was especially helpful as we will do that after we graduate,” said Allison. “This wasn’t just a job. We had someone there who could either say,” This is great “or,” This is not going to work, and here’s why. “

In the end, the team had the solid, two-sided rake that withstood unaided, as well as a plastic dustpan-style device with an ergonomic handle and built-in hose connection and spray system with no splash back.

Sure, it’s fun working on a pooper scooper, Galloway said, but the device doesn’t matter. It helps students solve real-world problems like Spangler’s that could have cost him his business license.

“Wherever students make careers, they will take on projects where they have no expertise and have to rely on and work with others,” said Galloway. “If you trust the process, you’ll find something that works.”

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