For the seniors in FIU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, everything they’ve learned in four years culminates with a single project. Working together in teams, they take on projects that test their knowledge, ingenuity, patience and imagination.
Finally, on Senior Design Day, the students put on their best suits and showcase their projects to a host of industry advisers who pick their brains and give them feedback on their work.
And so it came to be that one day in late April, slowly finding its way around one corner on the third floor of the Engineering Center, was SEEYER, a “Seeing Eye Robot” developed by a five-member team of students that includes Jenny Avila.
“Our project is an autonomous robot that’s designed to assist the visually impaired in getting from point A to point B inside of a building,” explained Avila, who worked with teammates Dominic Tang-How, Ricardo Urena, Ningyuan Wang and Liyang Sun on the invention. “It should be able to direct them and take them there safely without running into anything or anyone, and then alert them once it’s arrived.”
Integrating existing components including Microsoft Kinect and a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Scanner, the team “wanted to do something that would help people and use engineering to improve people’s lives.”
The team spent six months on the project, which initially involved designing and building the hardware, followed by implementing the software, which, Avila said, was “a lot more overwhelming than I thought it was going to be.”
In talking about how much they learned throughout the process, Avila noted the relative ease with which they came up with ideas and the subsequent difficulties they faced in executing them.
“The other thing we learned was when you prototype, scale down,” she explained with a laugh. “That was a big, big problem for us.”
Just down the hallway from Avila and her teammates, Jhonathan Briceno and his team have designed and built a Brain Signal Detector and Emitter to control external devices. The device wraps around his head and uses a sensor to detect a signal from his brain.
When he bows his head, the brain signal detected begins to control the wheels on a toy car, moving them forward, backward, left and right. A remote-control arm the team designed allows the user to control the movement of a robot arm.
“We originally had an idea to create something with the brain signals, something like a robotic arm to help out people who have lost a limb,” explained Briceno, who was joined on the team by Zhe Geng, Yue Kun, Yizhou Liu and Carlos Andres Rodriguez. “The thing is for you to control different signals at the same time requires a lot of training, so for the demonstration we wanted to do something a little bit simpler.”
Similar events are held twice a year by each of the seven departments and schools in CEC to showcase students’ senior design projects. These Capstone Projects, said Herman Watson, undergraduate program director in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, represent a culmination of all the courses and studies they’ve been exposed to during their time in the college. Students spend their last year taking two courses in which they develop these projects.
“I tell them that essentially they’re working on their job interview,” Watson said. “They may not have an internship, they may not have a co-op, but they have a Senior Design Project. So they put it together, they go through all the engineering practices like you’d have in industry, they pull it together and they struggle, of course, to get the thing to finally work to whatever degree they have it working, and then go through the presentation.”
From his perspective as an educator, Watson said, watching the students collaborate on the projects and go through the inevitable struggles and triumphs along the way is satisfying.
“I wish we were able to focus more on that,” said Watson, who is one of several faculty members who serve as mentors on the projects. “They probably grow and learn more by going through this process than they do anything else in their education. But then, they wouldn’t be able to do it if they didn’t have the background. So, once you look at it objectively, you begin to realize how short the four-year education really is. But I love it. I love the process. I love to see the