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June 19, 2006

Engineering students present senior design projects

By Tim Stephens

Teams of senior engineering students demonstrated an impressive variety of design projects and vied for $2,000 in prize money at the Baskin School of Engineering's First Annual Senior Design Project Contest on June 16.

ScavBuoy team
The ScavBuoy Team (Edmond Yip, Andrew Kistler, and Alex May) developed a device that uses energy from ocean waves to gather and transmit oceanographic data. They took the second-place prize, a $200 Cruzio gift certificate and t-shirts.
Photo: Tim Stephens

The students presented interdisciplinary design projects developed during a two-quarter capstone design course required of all senior electrical and computer engineering students.

The design course sequence is offered twice a year, fall-winter and winter-spring, and the entrants in the contest included projects from both classes.

"The students put a lot of work into these projects, and the results are phenomenal," said Richard Hughey, professor and chair of computer engineering.

The winning project was Yellowstone, a working prototype of a wireless networked system for monitoring geysers in Yellowstone National Park in near-real time, with data displayed on a user interface at a central base station. Two teams worked on this project, one focusing on the sensor and digital system and the other on wireless communications.

The students who worked on the Yellowstone project were David Munday, Tim Allen Jones, Khi Lam, Paul Schooss, Tony Hutter, Matthew Minolli, Jason Rhodewalt, and Yiping Chen.

Second place went to ScavBuoy, a buoy system that uses ocean waves as a source of energy while it collects and wirelessly transmits oceanographic data. Tied for third place were SeaSight, a long-range, high-resolution underwater imaging system that serves as a midway point between sonar (long-range, low-resolution) and video (short-range, high-resolution), and Relative GPS, a wireless system for mobile robotic platforms using Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation information to provide accurate information about the relative positions of the mobile platforms.

The idea for the contest was prompted by the enthusiastic responses of alumni, members of the engineering school's advisory board, and other visitors who have come to watch the student presentations at the end of each course, Hughey said.

"At the end of winter quarter this year, we had more than 100 people in the audience to see the presentations," he said. "The alumni and advisory board members have been very impressed by our students."

Students in the design course work in cross-disciplinary teams to complete their projects. The projects help prepare students for real-world work experiences. According to Hughey, the senior design project is often an important factor in helping graduates land their first job or get into graduate school.

Ideas for projects may originate with students, faculty, or external industry and public-sector collaborators. In addition to providing ideas, external collaborators often provide equipment and other support for the student projects.

The students begin preliminary design and prototyping during the first quarter of the course, which culminates in formal presentations of each group's project proposal. In the second quarter, the student groups complete their projects and prepare reports and presentations. At the end of the quarter, each group presents and demonstrates its project, as well as the lessons learned in the completion of its design. 

"These presentations have been one of the highlights of finals week each winter and spring quarter," said Jennifer Brill, assistant director of development for the School of Engineering, who helped organize the contest.

"We wanted to enhance the experience for all involved by providing the students an opportunity to present their projects to an external review board to evaluate the quality of the projects and to give students feedback on their technology, design, and collaborative skills," Brill said.

The projects were judged by a panel of engineering alumni on the basis of three criteria: technological innovation and realization; presentation ability; and effective team collaboration. Contributions from individual donors provided funds for prizes.

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