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1066 ECE Building
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Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 244-6376
bradp@illinois.edu

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Meg Dickinson
Communications Specialist
1068 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 300-6664
megd@illinois.edu

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Three Senior Design projects approved for IEEE Standards Education grants

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By Nathaniel Lash, ECE ILLINOIS
June 25, 2012

  • This past school year, three groups from ECE 445: Senior Design had projects that received approvals for IEEE Standards Education grants.
  • IEEE typically awards no more than 30 such grants each year.
  • Projects included a wireless optical piano, an alternative energy monitoring system, and a firearm locking system.

During the 2011-2012 school year, three groups of ECE seniors received approvals for IEEE Standards Education grants for ECE 445: Senior Design projects that utilized IEEE or other national industry standards.

This is particularly noteworthy because the IEEE Standards Education Committee typically awards no more than 30 such grants to students each year. According to IEEE, the grants are given to “promote the importance of standards in meeting technical, economic, environmental, and societal challenges.” In tackling issues like alternative energy, wireless communications, and gun safety, ECE seniors rose to those challenges, using standards they’ll use later on in their careers.

“A standard really provides the means for a multitude of actors to work in the market and provide interoperable electronics,” said ECE Associate Professor Scott Carney, the course director. “Standards will be a huge part of the careers of many of our students.”

Wireless Optical Piano

The team of (from left) Alex Crisci, Evan Schrock, and Ryan Mancl developed a wireless optical piano.
The team of (from left) Alex Crisci, Evan Schrock, and Ryan Mancl developed a wireless optical piano.

One project developed a wireless optical piano. This project was recognized for its use of MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Project member Evan Schrock said the project showed the possibility of replacing wires with light-emitting diodes.

“We already have the light. Why not use it to send information as well?” Schrock said. “LEDs are getting incorporated into so many lighting fixtures, so if we can use them to send this information, why not?”

Common electronic keyboards are able to generate a MIDI sequence that identifies certain things about the note being played – velocity, pitch, volume, for example – that are then generally sent through a wire to a MIDI sequencer that in turn interprets the data before sending it to an audio device. Schrock and fellow ECE graduate Alex Crisci, however, took note that MIDI’s binary signal could just as easily be communicated as a light flashing on and off. By setting up an LED that could flash at 33 kHz (far faster than the human eye can detect), the pair was able to send a data stream that reproduced the MIDI signal to a photodetector at distances as far as six feet. That sensor then converted the light into an electrical signal that was filtered and amplified into audible music.

Schrock said the project could be applied to more than just MIDI devices. For example, the technology could be used to communicate audio signals to devices equipped by hard-of-hearing listeners at a concert or lecture in a large auditorium. This idea could be applied to wireless communications in general, using light to transmit the data currently sent via Wi-Fi or other radio wave technologies that are facing the issue of spectrum scarcity.

And although designed for a MIDI keyboard, Schrock and Crisci’s system was shown to work with any device designed for the MIDI standard, as the pair demonstrated at the 2012 Engineering Open House, where the signal from his electronic drum kit was sent via the wireless optical system.

The team of (from left) Zachary Beran, Ben Kinney, and Archit Amin developed an alternative energy monitoring system to help consumers make decision about their sources of renewable energy.
The team of (from left) Zachary Beran, Ben Kinney, and Archit Amin developed an alternative energy monitoring system to help consumers make decision about their sources of renewable energy.

Alternative Energy Monitoring System

Another group developed a new system to help consumers decide whether to operate their own sources of renewable energy. Using the IEEE standards of conductor and fuse protection as well as battery selection, team members Zachary Beran, Ben Kinney, and Archit Amin developed the Alternative Energy Monitoring System to collect data vital in determining the power output of solar and wind energy in a particular area.

“Nowadays, green energy is becoming very popular. People like to either put solar cells or wind turbines on their property or maybe on their car. Really, solar cells and wind turbines are the only things that the general person could do themselves in a fairly efficient way,” Beran said.

The system currently collects data about temperature, wind speed, and solar thermal energy, creating data points over a long period time of time that a user could use to determine how useful a certain type of alternative energy would be for the exact location where it would be installed.

“If you want to put up a solar cell, if you want to put up a wind turbine, you have to know how much power you’re going to get,” Beran said. “Otherwise, you could buy a wind turbine or a lot of solar cells and spend a lot of money, and realize that you live somewhere that it’s cloudy all the time, or you live somewhere that there’s no wind. You don’t want to spend a lot of money and not get anything out of it.”

Beran said that the system was also designed to be modified by other engineers who wanted to collect other pieces of data that would be important for alternative energy—wind direction and humidity, for example.

User Specific Firearm Locking System

The team of (from left) Steve Bettenhauser, Yong Seok Lee, and Andrew Weller designed a gun safety that unlocks using a fingerprint scanner on a wireless unit.
The team of (from left) Steve Bettenhauser, Yong Seok Lee, and Andrew Weller designed a gun safety that unlocks using a fingerprint scanner on a wireless unit.

The third group tackled gun safety in the home with their Senior Design project. Using the IEEE Master Test Guide for Electrical Measurements in Power Circuits, team members Steve Bettenhausen, Andrew Weller, and Yong Seok Lee designed a gun safety that unlocks using a fingerprint scanner on a wireless unit.

“It’s meant to be an alternative to a gun safe,” Bettenhausen said. “It would be a gun more easily accessible in the case of an emergency, and it would be a gun only usable by you.” 

The group said that the system afford greater safety to keeping a firearm in the home. The system used wirelessly controlled mechanisms that blocked the firearm magazine and trigger without a positive ID on the fingerprint scanner.

Carney said that because the team utilized IEEE power testing standards, it was able to determine what devices, like batteries, would meet their runtime requirements, optimizing power consumption for the whole system.

“Standards can provide real product development guidelines,” Carney said. “You need that in a community—that’s what makes it work. Otherwise we’re all just off doing our own thing, going in different directions and not getting anywhere.”

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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