Students take on disaster relief with Apparatus X

Date: 4/24/2014

By Katelyn Gendron

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Josh Kessler, 20, a sophomore at Penn State University, isn’t dedicating his college years to beer pong and frat parties like so many others throughout the country. Instead, this East Longmeadow, Mass., resident has a higher purpose: to graduate with a double major in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, all while serving as president-elect of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW).

In September 2013, under the leadership of graduate student Aaron Wertman, ESW began its most ambitious project yet: to build a $20,480 retro-fitted RV called Apparatus X, which is designed to aid populations recovering from natural disasters, specifically those in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, La., an area still devastated from Hurricane Katrina. The group of 20 students designed and began building Apparatus X thanks to donations from IBM and Boeing but is still in need of $14,480 to complete their work by August, when it will be transported to New Orleans for use in partnership with the nonprofit Lower 9th Ward Village.

“We think that Apparatus X has the potential to [meet] more than just this one community’s needs. We want to have an entire fleet of these vehicles to provide immediate aid after natural disasters,” Kessler told Reminder Publications.

“The reason why I wanted to become an engineer was to help people with what I’m doing. I’m not an engineer yet but this project is helping me obtain that goal. I really believe that [Apparatus X] will impact that community,” he added.

According to ESW’s Indiegogo webpage (a fundraising website), “Apparatus X is a redesigned RV with the following goals: provide an adaptable tool trailer that can expand into a construction workspace; function as a mobile design studio; serve as a highly efficient mobile living unit that will exemplify sustainable living; and, empower and engage communities in need.”

The design allows for expandable workspace for construction, flex space for social interaction and collaboration as well as living space for the emergency relief team, Kessler explained. Apparatus X is also self-sustaining, complete with food, water and power systems.

According to Indiegogo, “Apparatus X will include a ‘Garden-in-a-Box,’ which is a do-it-yourself kit for starting a garden. Wherever Apparatus X goes, it can easily provide everything the community needs to enjoy a sustainable and healthy source of food.

“A rainwater collection and purification system, combined with a water recycling system, creates a nearly completely closed loop. Water used for hygiene will later be used to clean tools, water the garden, and so on.

“An array of solar panels will produce 2,000 kWh, enough to power a 2,000 square foot home. This ensures that even in areas without access to power, emergency relief teams can still charge power tools and access safe, reliable shelter.”

Approximately 95 percent of the design is complete and building has commenced thanks to the $6,000 donated by IBM and Boeing, Kessler noted.

When asked what would happen if ESW does not reach its $15,000 fundraising goal on Indiegogo by the deadline of May 2, Kessler replied, “We’ll still get to keep the money [we’ve raised thus far] and we’ll be able to buy a lot of what we need. We’re also reaching out to Home Depot and solar power companies for corporate sponsorships.”

To make a donation to ESW’s Apparatus X project on Indiegogo, which has raised $6,273 as of press time, visit

Additional information about Apparatus X may be obtained by visiting