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Electrical engineering seniors unveil capstone design projects

Pete Shooner | Apr 15, 2016
EE Showcase
Photos by Ashley Stottlemyer

Electrical engineering seniors unveil capstone design projects

Pete Shooner | Apr 15, 2016

Photos by Ashley Stottlemyer

The Academic & Research Center (ARC) Living Room Atrium was buzzing with energy – literally – as Russ College electrical engineering student teams showcased their senior capstone designs Wednesday.

From antennae capable of converting ambient radio waves into direct current power to a receiver that can capture ultra-violet light signals without a direct line of sight to the source, the teams’ designs represent the culmination of the students’ undergraduate studies, which they used to devise practical solutions to specific engineering problems.

The “Artificial Sunlight Team” was tasked by Ohio University’s Edison Biomedical Institute, where cancer researchers studying the effects of UV light on skin cells and biological specimens needed a way to independently vary the intensity of UVA and UVB spectrums. The team designed an enclosed stainless steel box outfitted with a series of UV bulbs, which are all controlled dynamically via Bluetooth by a Samsung tablet.

“They wanted a more controlled environment to run their experiments, so that’s what we created,” team member Emmi Skeans said. “They came to us because military-grade versions of this device cost upwards of $30,000. We were able to design and build this with just $1,500.”

The Russ College’s Unbelievably Fun Object (UFO) – a customized autonomous drone prototype built by student teams over 16 years – made its presence known as current team members fired up preprogrammed flight patterns, filling the ARC Atrium with the loud whirring of aircraft’s multiple rotors as it remained safely attached to its testing rig.

Professor of Electrical Engineering Jim Zhu, who started the UFO project as a way to test his now-patented control algorithm, said the prototype performs much the same way a commercially available drone does, but there’s one key difference.

“This isn’t something that came out of a box – we built this from scratch,” Zhu explained. “So we know how every motor, every control, every algorithm works, and that makes it a great educational tool for our students.”

Picking up where previous students left off, this year’s team focused on preparing the UFO for its first outdoor flight testing. Team member Stuart Randle said they added new programming to connect with an RF controller, which will serve as a manual override if an issue occurs during autonomous flight.

“We also wanted to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything,” Randle joked. “We added new proximity sensors so that it will sense when it’s near an object, and we added programming so that it will correct itself and avoid a collision.”

Team “Non-line-of-sight UV Communication” designed and built a UV light transmitter and receiver capable of sending data beyond line-of-sight transmission, which has been the biggest challenge facing optical communications.

“Ultraviolet light has the potential to move data 500,000 times faster than Wi-Fi,” team member Jared Lindsey said. “The problem we’ve had is you can’t get it around corners.”

To create an initial proof of concept, the team relied on the Rayleigh effect, or the phenomenon of photons being scattered by molecules in the air, and successfully transmitted a small amount of UV light to a receiver out of direct view.

Chair of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science David Juedes said he was impressed by this year’s projects.

“They demonstrated that the students were able to design, build and test non-trivial engineering projects that used the things that they learned in their undergraduate courses, and some were very advanced,” Juedes said. “This is exactly what senior design should be all about.”