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Students innovate in senior design projects

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By Ashish Valentine, ECE ILLINOIS
May 28, 2014

  • Students Robel Arega, Adam Yang, and Jonathan Chen set out to make quadcopters less of a toy and more of a companion to their users by developing a control system that allows users to control the drone via hand motions.
  • Marva Dar, Abdel Zouhair, and Jonathan Fajardo Cortes worked on solving the HIV crisis with a diagnostic device that was much more portable than current lab diagnostic equipment and could be taken into the field to diagnose HIV cases in countries with less developed medical facilities.
  • A.J. Englehardt, Jason Luzinski, and Benjamin Riggins aimed to improve upon the design of alarm clocks by designing an Easy Cube Alarm Clock, shaped like a cube with clock faces on each of two faces of the cube.
  • Shanoon Martin, Jialin Sun, and Manfei Wu designed a fantastical magic wand battle game inspired by the Harry Potter series, in which players cast spells using a gesture-recognizing wand.

Seniors that designed a magic wands battle game Manfei Wu, Jialin Sun, and Shanoon Martin pose for a picture with professor Andrew C Singer.
Seniors that designed a magic wands battle game Manfei Wu, Jialin Sun, and Shanoon Martin pose for a picture with professor Andrew C Singer.
All engineering students know the stress of upcoming exams, and how easy it is to forget everything they’ve learned once they are not being tested on it.

Some engineering courses on campus rely less on tests and more on a structure that makes students demonstrate what they’ve learned by building devices and systems to solve real-world problems.

 “Rather than teach technical subject matter, we provide a framework in which students can learn, innovate and develop their technical abilities and develop their engineering skills by conceiving, designing, building and testing a project,” ECE Professor and course director Paul Scott Carney said.

Undergraduate students in Senior Design divided themselves into teams to develop projects dealing with a wide range of applications of their own choosing, from battles with magical wands to developing more effective methods of detecting HIV. The course requires student teams to propose initial ideas, conduct design reviews, present their projects and complete final papers.

Students Robel Arega, Adam Yang, and Jonathan Chen set out to make quadcopters less of a toy and more of a companion to their users by developing a control system that allows users to control the drone via hand motions. 

The team’s design features a glove module which the user wears on his or her hand, and a corresponding companion module on the quadcopter that receives the user’s hand motions and interprets them as commands to adjust the pitch, roll, yaw, and thrust of the quadcopter. The design also features a tracking module that allows the quadcopter to follow the user’s glove at a predefined height.

“The most interesting, and possibly the most challenging, part for our project was most likely the planning phase,” Chen said. “We were able to model our design with state diagrams, but the absence of structured guidance made us very unsure of the direction we were heading toward.”

Though the team faced roadblocks in design, “in the end, though, I would definitely attribute our success to careful planning combined with good research as well as amazing team chemistry,” Chen said.

While Arega, Yang and Chen’s team focused on improving the quadcopter experience, another team composed of Marva Dar, Abdel Zouhair, and Jonathan Fajardo Cortes worked on solving the HIV crisis with a portable diagnostic device.

The team used a biochip that had already been developed for detecting HIV cells in blood and tried to design a device that was much more portable than current lab diagnostic equipmentould be taken into the field to diagnose HIV cases in countries with less developed medical facilities.

“Our task was to transform the current test setup to test the biochip which can detect HIV into a portable and economic setup," Cortes said. "We had to take all of the big lab component machines and research the specific task that was needed for the project, then build it from zero."

Another student project aimed to improve upon the design of alarm clocks, which team members noted usually feature controls that are frustrating or confusing for users to operate while groggy in the early hours of the morning.

A.J. Englehardt, Jason Luzinski, and Benjamin Riggins attacked this problem by designing an Easy Cube Alarm Clock, shaped like a cube with clock faces on each of two faces of the cube. One face displays the current time, while another face displays the alarm time.

To operate the clock, users simply place the cube with the alarm face down to arm the alarm, and when the alarm goes off, users turn the cube over to turn off the alarm. Built-in accelerometers in the alarm clock detect which side of the cube is facing upwards, and therefore whether the alarm is armed.

Users can also shake the clock to snooze the alarm. The clock is elegantly designed and housed in a 3-D printed cube case reminiscent of designs for Apple computers, leading Carney to describe it as “an alarm clock for the black turtleneck crowd.” The project won a design award and was added to the Senior Design Hall of Fame.

“Their project was very clever,” Carney said. “It’s a great idea for someone who doesn’t want to think too much about the clock, and it was very intuitive and very beautiful.”

While many of the designs were geared towards real-world issues, a team composed of Shanoon Martin, Jialin Sun, and Manfei Wu designed a fantastical magic wand battle game inspired by the Harry Potter series, in which players cast spells using a gesture-recognizing wand.

Accelerometers inside the wand controller detect the user’s hand gestures and translate these into various spells, and ultrasonic transmitters and receivers are used to detect whether players are hit by the spells or not. Wu described the project as “laser tag with gesture recognition.”

A major motivation in the product’s design was to enable users to play the game outside, rather than being constrained to indoor environments as other motion-controlled games such as the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect require.

“The gaming market now makes children stay more indoor playing games, sitting in front of computer or moving in front of a TV,” Martin said. “Thus, our motivation is a wide-range, portable, and outdoor-enabled playing game.”

Martin, Sun, and Wu won a teamwork award for their performance in the course.

Carney uses the metaphor of rockets to describe the project development structure.

“In senior design, we take the view that these projects are little rockets, as it is their initial trajectory we influence most,” he said.

Five weeks into the course, the projects are planned and approved and the direction that the project is headed in is determined like a rocket is pointed at its destination. At this point “they’re launched and it’s up to them,” he said. “The project is in their hands.”

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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