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Engineers Demonstrate Wondrous Inventions

"Otto" the camera-equipped quadcopter

On Friday, April 24, seniors from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECE) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will present, display, and demonstrate 21 clever and useful electronic inventions for the public. The ECE will host its 25th annual Senior Design Project Day on campus, when 21 teams of seniors will unveil a high-tech floor show for the electronics of the future. This year’s senior design projects include an electronic navigation system for visually impaired individuals, a drone model quadcopter that automatically videotapes action sports such as mountain biking, an app that can turn any home cook into a virtual chef, a digital fitness trainer, and much, much more. Read full descriptions of all these projects.

Or, better still, come to the event for first-hand demonstrations. The public review of these senior design projects happens at the Gunness Engineering Student Center of Marcus Hall on the UMass Amherst campus from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on April 24, when students will display their devices, demonstrate their functions, and answer questions from visitors on an individual basis.

The ECE department will also be offering a second day of demonstrations by staging a double feature on Saturday, April 25. The Saturday festivities will include a return engagement of all the senior design projects, again taking place from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the Gunness Student Center, and also include M5’s 5th biannual Circuits and Code event in Marcus Hall, Room 5, celebrating its latest installment of technology, engineering, science, mathematics, and creativity through student projects.

Meanwhile, Senior Design Day on April 24 is literally the capstone of the ECE education. “The Senior Design Project is not only the culminating project in the ECE curriculum,” says T. Baird Soules, the department’s undergraduate program director, “but it is also where students broaden their skill base by making presentations, working in teams, and staying within their budgets.”

For example, take BluEye, a virtual navigation app that will safely guide the blind and visually impaired through unfamiliar indoor and outdoor environments. The system utilizes a mobile application that communicates with Bluetooth Low Energy beacons to establish user location and provide voice instructions for guidance to a specified destination.

Another project, Sudo Chef, creates a virtual “smart kitchen” with an app that can keep track of the ingredients stocked in a kitchen, find recipes, manage shopping, and guide the user through the process of cooking recipes. Sudo Chef integrates the stovetop, oven, microwave, and mobile device into a smooth cooking experience worthy of Julia Childs.

The Digital Fitness Trainer is a piece of exercise equipment combined with wearable technology that will allow athletes to do strength training with a reduced risk of injury. The Digital Fitness Trainer’s software warns users of improper form or alerts them when they are reaching the fatigue threshold and could risk an increased danger of injury.

For something completely different, there’s “Otto,” the personal cameraman that introduces a new way to capture life's most exciting moments. The system is based on a camera-equipped quadcopter that automatically follows and videotapes a user performing an individual action sport. By maintaining a visual lock on the user during his or her performance, Otto is able to capture the entire experience through an onboard high-resolution video camera.

In addition to these intriguing projects, several more inventions could answer widespread social needs, including a wearable video camera for police personnel which serves to protect citizens and promote police accountability, a brainwave-controlled robotic car, a virtual piano, a blast-impact measuring device for soldiers, and an indoor tracking device for emergency personnel such as firemen working in perilous buildings.

The Senior Design Project provides a crowning experience for undergraduate students in the ECE department. Students work in teams of four during a year-long course to design and build systems of their own conception. Each team is advised by a faculty member in the department, and projects undergo four formal reviews before faculty evaluators. The learning goals for the senior design project include technical design, an understanding of realistic constraints, teaming societal impact, and much more.

“The design project is as close as we can get to duplicating what these students will be doing in their professional lives,” says ECE Department Head Christopher Hollot. (April 2015)