University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Sneak Preview for Electronics of the Future

As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” Now, some 150 years later, somebody has finally built one! On Friday, April 25, not only was a better mousetrap on display, but also 22 other creative, useful, and socially conscious electronic inventions. The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECE) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst hosted its 24th annual Senior Design Project Day on campus, when 23 teams of ECE students unveiled a high-tech floor show for the electronics of the future. This year’s senior design projects included a smart, have-a-heart, mouse trap, a virtual mountain bike, an electronic scarecrow, an ID bracelet that exchanges contact information with just a handshake, an electronic child reporting device, and much, much more. For full descriptions of all these projects, go to http://www.ecs.umass.edu/ece/sdp/sdp14/teams.html.

The public review of these senior design projects happened at the Gunness Engineering Student Center, when students displayed their devices, demonstrated their functions, and answered questions from visitors on an individual basis.

The ECE department also offered a second day of demonstrations by staging a double feature on Saturday, April 26. The Saturday festivities included a return engagement of all the senior design projects. Then ECE hosted the 4th biannual Circuits and Code event celebrating its latest installment of technology, engineering, science, mathematics, and creativity through student projects.

Meanwhile, Senior Design Day on April 25 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 the Smart Trap, a high-tech, non-lethal, humane mouse trap. It uses a passive infrared sensor to detect when a mouse has sprung the trap door. The trap user will be notified of the mouse capture via an application on his or her mobile device and can then take the trap outside and release the mouse, either remotely from the application or by pressing a switch on the trap.

The Virtual Mountain Bike simulator aims to revolutionize the exercise bike market. It features the first full indoor trail riding experience, including incline and decline, rough terrain rumble, and pedal resistance. An on-board display plays prerecorded video that controls all degrees of freedom, giving the ultimate immersive experience.

The Electric Scarecrow helps families grow food by monitoring soil conditions and automating watering of a home garden. Better yet, a security system is integrated into the design which harmlessly scares away animal intruders.

A social networking tool called Leaf can detect who you are shaking hands with and instantly initiate a connection request to that person on the social network of your choice almost effortlessly. Gone are the days of exchanging phone numbers and contact information. With Leaf, a connection is just a handshake away.

The Child Safety Reporting System will monitor a child's location electronically and alert the parent(s) if the child strays from a normal routine. The target market is parents with children between five and twelve years of age.

In addition to these intriguing projects, several more inventions could have widespread social impacts, including devices that harvest energy from turnstiles, provide indoor navigation for the blind from a smart phone, automatically prevent texting while driving, and report illegal users of handicapped parking spaces.

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 several formal reviews. The learning goals for the senior design project include technical design, an understanding of realistic constraints, ethics, 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 2014)