The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Engineers Stage a Sneak Preview of the Future

Hot on the heels of its annual Senior Design Project Day on April 29, the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst held its second annual Circuits and Codes event on April 30. Circuits and Codes is described as “a celebration of technology, engineering, science, mathematics, creativity, and the students who are designing and building the products and systems of the future.” Among the many inventions on display for visitors were a fully automated/user-controlled robot, an electric go-kart made out of junked parts, a Weed Warrior (poster pictured) that roams the yard slaying wicked dandelions, and a lifesaving device to help doctors remotely monitor the vital signs of geriatric patients in their homes.

Everyone was invited, from the tech-loving to the techno-phobic. As the ECE department says, “In a very real sense, we are inviting you to a sneak preview of the future. Many of the ideas you’ll witness at Circuits and Codes will make their way into everyday products of the future.” 

One good example is Emma5, a robot designed to maneuver the campus sending real-time feedback to a central station. Communication between Emma and her controllers is done in the Java environment and through the UMass wifi network. Emma hopes to be out there living large by the end of the summer!

There were plenty of other sights and sounds to enjoy as well. For instance, ECE students have put together the M5 Go Kart from spare parts and leftover electronics lying around collecting dust. This same kind of scavenger hunt produced the Arduino Arcade Shield, which interfaces with MIDI instruments, and, using an arcade chip from the 1980s, produces classic arcade sound from the wide range of MIDI instruments and controllers that are available on the market today.  

In addition to these small wonders, 13 teams of ECE seniors have been working all year on their Senior Design Projects, which were also on display at Circuits and Codes.

One of these “culminating projects” is called Agent Smith, a lifesaving device to help doctors and nurses remotely monitor heart rate, pulse, and temperature for house-bound geriatric patients. In-home patients are the most difficult to monitor, because there is not always a person by their side to contact a doctor in case of an emergency. That’s where Agent Smith is always on the job, alerting medics instantly when vital signs become irregular.

Another senior project, the Speech Recognition TiVo Remote Application, changes your TV channel with just a voice command. As the team of young inventors describes this tool with tongue in cheek, our remote “will utilize the speech recognition capabilities of cellular phones to aid in your triumph over laziness.”

Other wonders were the Wait Watcher, which gives you a remote preview of waiting lines in case they’re too long to bother with, and the Weed Warrior, which roams across your yard like a knight errant in search of evil weeds to kill.

The event was a treat for the curious of all ages. For younger visitors, the ECE Outreach Club prepared what it describes as “cool demos” designed to attract youngsters to the wonders of science and engineering. In fact, Circuits and Codes was a crowd-pleaser for youngsters from nine to 99. (April 2011)