The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Come See Tomorrow’s Electronic Wizards Today

On Friday, April 29, the 21st annual Senior Design Project Day at the University of Massachusetts Amherst unveiled 13 clever, creative, and useful electronic inventions produced by seniors from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECE). The event is a high-tech floor show for the electronics of the future. Past projects have included everything from home automation systems and wireless drumsticks to assistive robots. This year’s inventions go by such intriguing names as the Wait Watcher, the Weed Warrior, and the Mechanical Autonomous Robot Companion (pictured). To find out exactly what these inventions do, you can go to Senior Design Project Teams.

The public review of these 13 projects happened at the Gunness Engineering Student Center in Marcus Hall from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Students displayed their devices, demonstrated their functions, and answered questions from visitors on an individual basis.

“The Senior Design Project is not only the culminating project in the ECE curriculum,” said 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.”

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. As the Agent Smith team described its project, “For this age group, monitoring of vital signs is crucial, especially when a patient is in serious condition.” 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.

To show the wide range of problems addressed by the senior projects, the Speech Recognition TiVo Remote Application changes your TV channel with just a voice command. As the team of young inventors described this tool with tongue in cheek, our remote “will utilize the speech recognition capabilities of cellular phones to aid in your triumph over laziness.”

All the senior projects have developed practical electronic tools. For example, the Wait Watcher gives you a remote sneak preview of waiting lines in case they’re too long to bother with. The Weed Warrior (poster pictured) roams across your yard administering herbicide to only the weeds. The rest of the inventions on display at Senior Design Project Day, too numerous to describe here, were just as ingenious as these projects. All 13 have to be seen to be believed.

The Senior Design Project provides a capstone 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.

Inventions such as these serve as capstone projects for seniors in ECE. “The design project is as close as we can get to duplicating what these students will be doing in their professional lives,” said ECE Department Head Christopher Hollot. (April 2011)