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Five Teams Awarded for Their Wondrous Inventions





Each year seniors from the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst present, display, and demonstrate some 24 clever and useful electronic inventions for the public. This year five teams of senior ECE majors won the nine prizes given out for the event. The Senior Design Day Faculty Awards were given, in order, to: braillebook , SHARC (Simulated Hand & Arm Remote Control), Sauron, and SigninGlove. Then the IEEE People’s Choice Awards went to Sauron, braillebook, BRO (Basketball Return Optimizer), SHARC, and SigninGlove. See full descriptions of all projects.

Senior Design Day is 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.”

The braillebook is a project, created by Steven Golonka, Raveena Kothare, and Richard Lam, which is an affordable learning device featuring a dynamic display to quickly refresh braille characters. The inventors explain that “With the advent of text-to-voice and other audio technologies, Braille literacy within the blind community has declined in recent decades. In order to combat this decline and produce an alternative to expensive refreshable Braille displays that are currently available, we are designing and producing Braillebook – a low-cost, dynamic Braille learning tool.” The design implements pairs of eight-sided, plastic, rotating disks with faces that combine to display any six-dot Braille character.

SHARC (Simulated Hand & Arm Remote Control) is a robotic arm that can efficiently perform tasks with the dexterity of human arms in an environment where one might not want to involve his or her own actual limb. “Our project gives users intuitive control over a remotely located robot arm. Our project gives users intuitive control over a remotely located robot arm.The product gives its users intuitive control over a remotely controlled robotic arm,” explains the team of Connor Pope, Daniel Sheridan, Derek Caudill, and Harrison Shecter, which built a system that controls a robotic arm wirelessly using wearable sensors. As they say, “The robot arm is an open-source 3D printed design in order to focus our efforts on designing and building the controller.”

The team of Walter Brown, Zach Goodman, Jose LaSalle, and Omid Meh created Sauron, an easy-to-learn security tool that can be used to listen-in on an individual in a crowded area for the purposes of crime prevention and investigation or protection of the civilian population from terrorist activities. Sauron uses acoustic beamforming techniques to isolate the voice of a target. The operator can select a target by clicking on him or her in a video feed, which then isolates the target’s voice from the surrounding environmental sound. “Sauron’s ease-of-use puts the power of acoustic beamforming in your hands!” say the inventors.

SigninGlove is the brainchild of John Gontowicz, Mathew Lau, Kacey Looney, and Aaron Gilbert. The SigninGlove is an assistive technology that allows easier communication for those in the deaf community. A user wears a signing glove that is able to translate signs and display them as words on the user's mobile device, which can then relay this message to the cellphones of “listeners.” The team members say that “In order to accomplish this, the glove will utilize a Raspberry Pi and various sensors on-board. The glove system will be able to communicate with an Android application on the user's phone, acting as the glove's user interface.”

BRO (Basketball Return Optimizer) is a basketball return system invented by Brian Acker, Derek Foster, Devon O'Rourke, and Adam Paranay. As they say, “no recreational or professional system can track a player and return the ball to said player no matter where they stand on the court. BRO is a traditional return funnel system that is modified to maximize the player’s shooting time by using automatic tracking. By taking the funnel, mechanizing it, and integrating a webcam that tracks the player, our team has created a system that allows players to freely move around the court and have the ball returned to them regardless of position.”

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. “Also, in allowing student teams to define their own project ideas, our capstone experience helps promote creativity, considerations of societal impact and project ownership – all of which lead to more engaged students and better projects.” (May 2016)