Engineering Senior Project Ideas for Walla Walla University Students

Please see Ralph Stirling in CSP-262 if you are interested in any of these senior projects. A written application will need to be submitted to be accepted for one of these projects. Most of these projects have funding for materials for prototypes. Descriptions in green boxes are highest priority.


Manufacturing and Automation Projects

Fine Art Photography System
A local graphics artist has a very sophisticated studio for photographing art pieces and making prints. He would like to enhance his process by funding the development of an automated system for stepping an artwork in two dimensions while photographing small portions, to be reassembled in Photoshop. This would permit very high resolution images with optimum lighting and minimal distortion. Excellent project for an ME/EE team, or for ME's with software interests.
Tensile Tester for Biomaterials
We need to be able to measure mechanical properties of the new printed biomaterial samples produced from our bioprinter and electrospinning machines. The primary measurement will be tensile strength and elasticity. Our laboratory tensile testing machines are designed for much higher-strength materials, and cannot test fragile specimens like our biopolymers. We need to build a simple desktop tensile tester for small biopolymer samples. A stepper motor and leadscrew can supply the stress, and a digital microscope arrangement can be used to measure the strain. This is an interesting mechanical project with a small software component (configuring LinuxCNC or an Arduino to run the tests).
Syringe Driver for 3D Bioprinter
We have built a desktop bioprinter for the bioengineering laboratory, and we need an improved mechanism for dispensing viscous fluids from syringes of various sizes. The design needs to be modular, and make it easy to swap out sterile syringes. It must provide sufficient force to dispense 30mL syringes filled with fluids the viscosity of cake frosting or cornstarch. It needs to be able to either push or retract the syringe plunger, and should be powered by a small stepper motor. The design must be low cost and easy to manufacture. Early prototypes may be examined for ideas. Good project for ME interested in biomedical field or Bioengineer with good mechanical design abilities. Advisors would be Ralph Stirling and Dr. Janice McKenzie.
Racetrack Assembly System
A new concept in automated assembly systems has been prototyped in the Manufacturing Laboratory. This system incorporates an oval track with carts that move synchronously carrying partial assemblies. Each assembly station along the track has a small cartesian robot to pick up parts and place them on the assemblies. The system is modular and easily programmable. While a basic prototype has been assembled and some programming has been done, a great deal more design, analysis, and testing needs to be accomplished. This project would be good for a team of ME's and EE's or CpE's (two students that work together well could do it).
Linear Motor Development
We have done some preliminary development of a custom linear motor for the Racetrack assembly system. This linear motor is designed for low cost, modest force, and modest speed. It uses off-the-shelf magnets, and the cold-rolled-steel bar track. More development and testing is needed on this linear motor, with new applications for other motion systems, including 3-D printers. Good project for two EE's or an EE and a CpE.
Inductance to Digital linear position sensor
Texas Instruments has just introduced an integrated circuit which will give a digital output proportional to inductance (actually resonant frequency of a coil and capacitor). The intended use is in position sensing. I would like to see this LDC1000 device designed into a modular linear position sensor for the Racetrack system and our other linear motor applications. I have some ideas that I think might work well. Project for one EE or CpE.
BeagleBoneBlack LinuxCNC Motion Controller
Presently LinuxCNC, used for many projects including the Racetrack system, uses a full PC plus a Mesa 7I43 FPGA card to perform motion control on up to six axes of coordinated motion. For many projects this is perfectly acceptable. The Racetrack system, though, requires one instance of LinuxCNC for each station in the system, or six PC's for the test system in the lab. This is a lot of space and expense. The new TI BeagleBoneBlack linux embedded system board uses an ARM processor, costs $45, and already supports Linuxcnc. There are breakout boards available to connect the BBB to external stepper motor drivers, but very little has been done to support brushless servo motors. This project would be to create an add-on board (called a "cape" in BeagleBone parlance) that would control at least two three-phase servo motors with encoder feedback, and at least two stepper motors. This is an excellent project for a couple of EE's with interest in motion control and Linux embedded systems.
Modular Linear and Rotary Motion Actuators
Many companies, such as Intelligent Actuator and Animatics, make motion control systems consisting of an actuator (linear or rotary) and a controller. Unfortunately, all of these systems use proprietary programming languages, requiring users to learn new languages and environments for each new system. They also have propietary mechanical fastener patterns. Few vendors have both rotary and linear actuators in the same system, requiring different systems to be combined for many applications. The object of this project is to design a low-cost, modular, high-accuracy linear and rotary actuators. The actuators would use brushless motors and encoders, and be designed to fit 80/20 t-slot aluminum framing systems. Control would be provided with existing Linux CNC software and compatible electronics. This project would be primarily the mechanical analysis, design, and fabrication. A couple of ME's should be able to accomplish these goals.
Pick & Place Machine
Good open-source software and inexpensive cameras and hardware make it feasible to build a good automatic pick and place machine for assembling printed circuit boards. The goal is to design and build a machine along the lines of this, using Linux CNC, and OpenCV, with mechanical components similar to Misumi actuators. Good team project for an EE and an ME, with excellent potential for an entrepreneurial business.
Solder Paste Dispenser
We have a 3-axis engraving machine designed and built several years ago as a senior project. Normally this machine is equipped with a flex-shaft rotary tool for engraving panels or drilling printed circuit boards. We now have a need for accurately dispensing solder paste onto small circuit boards for surface-mount components. Solder paste is supplied in syringes, so we need a small mechanism for pushing very carefully controlled quantities of paste out of the syringe while moving it over each pad on the circuit board. The X-Y movement of the syringe will be generated from G-code files created by the circuit board layout software. Good project for an ME with a control inclination, or an EE with mechanical aptitude.
Computer-controlled Conduit Bender
Bending thin-wall electrical conduit has always been a trial-and-error art for electricians. It can take considerable skill to make conduit runs quickly with minimal scrap. Large, heavy, expensive hydraulic tubing benders exist in fabrication shops. A lightweight, portable, computer controlled pneumatic bender would greatly increase the productivity of electricians. The machine would need to be able to feed, rotate, bend, and cut a length of 1/2" or 3/4" EMT conduit. Bends would be in the 0 - 100 degree range, with standard radius. Ambitious project for a joint ME/EE team.
Coil Winding Machine
We have a frequent need to wind custom inductors and transformers for electronics projects. This can be a very tedious process to do by hand, and the resulting coil may perform poorly. We have assembled a simple system with two stepper motors for winding coils, but lack of tension control and inadequate wire guidance has limited the quality of resulting coils. What is needed is a small machine that uses stepper motors to control coil bobbin rotation, wire guiding and tension control. The goal would be to wind coils from about 0.25" diameter to 4" diameter, using wire from #36 to #18. The system should handle non-circular coil forms, and needs to have a "Y" axis motion to keep the wire guide nozzle close to the coil with non-circular coil forms. LinuxCNC would be used to control the improved coil winding machine, and the existing configuration would be the starting point. This project could be a joint EE/ME project.

Bicycle Projects

Better Twist Shifter
Existing bicycle shifters are difficult to maintain, fragile, and only work with specific manufacturer's drivetrains. There is a need for a new design of shifter that is rugged, easy to remove and install (without unthreading the derailleur cable), and able to work with mixed brands and models of drivetrain components. I have ideas that need to be evaluated, prototyped, and tested. Research into patentability could also be part of the project. Nice project for one ME.
Bicycle Test Stand
Bicycle drivetrain improvements need a consistent method of testing. Test stands exist for strength and fatigue testing of bicycles, but not for drivetrain performance testing. This project would result in an adjustable frame and system for testing the drivetrain of a variety of bicycle types. The rider would be simulated with pneumatic cylinders, and a roller dynamometer would provide simulated load. The drive and load would be controlled by a PLC. Good project for two ME's.
Direct Drive Generator for Serial Hybrid Bicycle
A serial hybrid bicycle drivetrain consists of a generator coupled to the cranks, a battery, and an electric motor driving one or two wheels. Nobody has designed an optimized direct drive generator for such an application. The generator needs to produce around 200W peak power, at a speed of about 75RPM. It needs to fit into the space available around a bicycle crank, although frame modifications will be allowed for this project. Weight should be minimized. Good project for an EE with a strong mechanical bent, or an ME with a strong interest in EMEC. This generator would be similar in design to small direct drive wind turbine generators, which operate at similar speeds.
Tadpole-style Recumbent Trike for Cargo Hauling
Inspiration for this project is the Cargo Monster cargo extension for recumbent trikes. It is rather expensive, though, and you have to get an even more expensive trike to go with it. I would like to build a trike along the lines of AtomicZombie Warrior Trike but with a CargoMonster style extension built-in. Caleb Kimbrell's senior project (trike with fairing) would also be useful for reference.
Cargo Bicycle for 3rd World
Approximately one billion people in the world lack access to good transportation, and spend much of their day walking to carry loads for basic living necessities. City dwellers in this group may spend one third of their daily income on public transportation. The bicycle has been proven over the last century to be a very efficient mode of transportation. What is needed are improvements to the basic bicycle to make it better suited to carrying loads (food, water, passengers) for both families and entreupreneurs earning income from transporting goods. Worldbike.org is spearheading one such effort. We can participate both in designing and analyzing bicycle frame and component designs, and in identifying production and maintenance processes that can be used in specific developing world locations. A group of ME's could work on different aspects of the mechanical and manufacturing problem. An EE could work on a side project of low-cost LED lighting for the worldbike.
Stepper Motor Derailleur
Bicycle gear shifting mechanisms have been essentially unchanged for nearly a century. Electronic controls and inexpensive stepper motors provide an opportunity to create a new type of bicycle drive train that has more reliable shifting and reduced maintenance problems. A stepper motor with lead-screw shaft and internal nut, connected to either an existing derailleur or a new design would be the focus of this project. One implementation of this was done in 2012, but there is room for improvement and other approaches. Good project for one ME.
Better Bicycle Lighting
Several manufacturers are now selling very bright LED lights (up to 900 lumens!), and these are available in a variety of flashlights and a few very expensive bicycle headlights. The markup from the components to a basic system is phenomenal. In addition, the commercially available bike lighting does not take a system approach of providing front, rear, and side lighting from one battery pack and one switch. In addition, there really needs to be an easy switchover from one battery pack to a second pack. This is essentially a mechanical project, as the electronics are pretty much drop-in modules. The mechanical components to be designed include:
  • headlight housing
  • headlight lens and reflector assembly
  • headlight handlebar mounting
  • taillight housing
  • taillight lens and reflector assembly
  • taillight mounting
  • sidelight(s)
  • handlebar mounted controls/switch
  • battery pack
  • connectors and wiring method
This project would involve research on high-power LED's and optical components, CAD/CAM, rapid prototyping, and CNC machining. Good potential for side business if you develop a good system.
Additional accessories for the Xtracycle system
The Xtracycle is a frame extension to convert an ordinary bike into a cargo-hauling bike. It provides an extremely versatile system for carrying heavy or bulky loads by bicycle. There are some additional accessories that would be helpful. One is a cover that could keep the rider (and passenger) drier when riding in the rain. Another would be a means of preventing theft of loads when the bike is parked. Other accessories could be conceived. While each of these is technically simple, economic and manufacturing analysis needs to accompany the technical design and analysis. Good project for an entrepreunurially minded ME.

Computer Vision Projects

Robot Vision and Navigation
Our new Rhex robot chassis includes a Microsoft Kinect 3D-vision module. Open-source software needs to be adapted to provide navigation and obstacle avoidance for the Rhex robot. See robot projects below for more information.
3-D Digitizer
A fascinating research paper at Columbia University shows how a camera and a cylindrical mirror can be used to digitize a complete 3D view of an object from a single photograph. We would like to implement this technique to create surface descriptions of small objects for reconstruction in Pro/E and FeatureCAM. This would be an ideal project for an ME student with strong programming skills and interest. Implementation could be done in Scilab/Matlab or C.
Meter Reading Camera
Reducing utility usage (water, electricity, gas) requires users to have a real-time view of consumption. Once-per-month bills do not give sufficient information to control usage or identify the highest consumption activities or appliances. Meters with electronic output are expensive to purchase and install. Inexpensive webcams connected to a PC, with proper image processing functions, could provide real-time tracking of utility usage. Good project for one EE, CpE, or ME.
Medical Imaging
Loma Linda University Department of Clinical Radiology has summer internships and senior project ideas that they will fund. If you are an EE or CpE interested in the medical field, this is an excellent opportunity. You can read more about this here.
Audience Counting
Organizers of events need to know how many people are in attendance at an event. Standing in a room and counting the people present is both difficult and unreliable. The Walla Walla University Church attempts to count the number of people present each week at the church service and would like an easier, more accurate way of doing this. One proposal is to mount a small camera at the center of the ceiling and use a machine vision algorithm to count heads at a fixed time each week. Development and testing of this algorithm would make a good senior project for a CpE or EE interested in computer vision.

Robotics Projects

Deaf Blind Communication Hand
Deaf-blind people naturally have a difficult time communicating with the rest of the population, or with computers. The most common method is for the deaf-blind individual to place his or her hands over the hand of the sighted person who signs words using something like American sign language. This is called "tactile signing". A device similar to a "bionic" prosthetic hand, but mounted on a stand, could be programmed to perform text-to-tactile-signing for communicating with the deafblind. This would be a large project, which would be best worked on by a team including both mechanically and software inclined engineering students.
Mecanum Wheel Paranoid Robot
We have a set of Mechanum wheels, motors, batteries, and sensors for building a little robot. The robots goal is simply to avoid getting caught. It will sit still until someone approaches it, and then moves in the best direction to avoid the person and any obstacles. The Mecanum wheels permit motion in any direction without any steering mechanism. The complete robot needs to fit into a carrying case on hand. Fun, straightforward project for an EE or CpE and an ME. The ME designs the chassis/body, and the EE/CpE writes the software. Can also be done by one ME with some C programming skills or an EE with some mechanical skills.

New Rhex software/navigation
With our new Rhex robot chassis and electronics we have the ability to use a Kinect 3D vision module and an Intel Atom D510 motherboard. This requires a new software architecture, with low-level motor control still provided by the FPGA board, but new higher-level motion, navigation, and communications provided by the PC motherboard running Linux with real-time extensions. Good project for a pair of CpE or EE's.
In-wheel Motor for Mobile Platforms
Walla Walla University has had a series of projects in the past to design a two-wheel balancing vehicle (the Segway is a newer implementation of this concept). We need a brushless "outrunner" motor designed to power this vehicle. The motor would be built into the wheel, eliminating gearboxes and their backlash problems. Good project for a fifth year EE or ME who enjoyed EMEC class.

Small Motor Dynamometer
We are engaging in a number of projects using small, custom-designed electric motors. It is imperative that we have an easy-to-use, accurate method of measuring the performance of these motors. We need to know torque-speed characteristics and input/output power. The primary tool for this is the dynamometer. One good example of a small dynamometer for reference is in the paper: Towards a Dynamic Actuator Model for a Hexapod Robot This is an excellent project for an ME or a mechanically-minded EE.

Embedded System Projects

Talking Digital Calipers
Digital calipers, micrometers, and other measuring devices can be purchased with a data output usually called "SPC". Blind users, or users who need to keep their eyes on something other than the display would greatly benefit from a small device which plugs in to the SPC port and will speak the measurement on demand or whenever a new set of data is transmitted from the SPC port. This would be a cool little project for a CpE or EE, and may have real market potential.
Pin Grid 3-D Visualization Device
A blind engineer also needs a means to visualize 3-D images by feel. An approach to this might be a computer-controlled pin art array, along the lines of these toys or this clock. We have some ideas for how to economically push the pins out from computer pixel maps. This would be a good team project for an ME and an EE or CpE.
Data Logger using ZeroMQ Networking
The ZeroMQ network platform provides easy-to-use one-to-many, many-to-one, and many-to-many distributed client/server communications, with support for many programming languages and platforms. A simple, low-cost data logger that uses the zeromq protocol in conjunction with a Wiznet TCP/IP hardware module would be an excellent device for distributed data acquisition systems. A CpE or EE with interest in network programming would find this a good embedded project with great potential for publishing.
FPGA Processor IDE
Xilinx provides the low-level tools for using their FPGA chips and the Picoblaze processor macro, but embedded system users expect a friendly Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that provides a convenient interface for editing, compiling, and debugging programs. An EE, CpE, or CS student with interest in embedded systems and Windows and/or Linux graphical user interface design would enjoy this project.
FPGA Board for the RaspberryPi
The RaspberryPi is a very popular $35 Linux computer not much bigger than a business card. It has typical PC input and output ports (USB, network, video), as well as sixteen general purpose I/O lines. To make the RPI board more useful in embedded applications, an expansion board with an inexpensive FPGA needs to be designed. The board formfactor should match the RPI. Some simple drivers for communicating with the FPGA over the gpio and downloading bitstreams need to be written also. Good project for one CpE or EE.

Other Projects

Labvolt Dynamometer
We need four programmable dynamometers of the 200 watt class for our new Labvolt electric machine lab system. These would consist of a DC motor with a speed/torque controller and data acquisition for providing a mechanical load to machines in the Labvolt system. Good project for one or two EE's.
Synchronous Machine Field Control
We have undertaken the first major overhaul of our electric machine laboratory in over 40 years. We have new electronic controls installed on induction motors and DC motor/generators. Our synchronous motors do not have new controls, because these are not commercially available for this size of machine. We need to have a careful design done of a circuit that can switch between a low-impedance load and a 3amp/125volt DC source for the field winding. The load circuit must be capable of conducting +/- 200A for many milliseconds. Switching between the load and the source must be done when the motor has reached synchronous speed. The circuit must be analyzed and tested for extreme conditions like slipping poles (overloaded motor). Excellent project for an EE interested in working in the power industry.
Truck/Car Powered Cement Mixer
The tremendous damage suffered by developing countries during earthquakes can be largely attributed to poor quality construction practices. One of the main problems is mixing concrete with shovels on the ground. This ubiquitous practice results in widely varying cement/aggregate ratios, excessive water, and inclusion of dirt. Modern mixer trucks and batch plants are entirely unsuited to developing contries like Haiti because of both capital cost and lack of good roads. This project would be to design a very low-cost continuous mixer that uses an ordinary pickup truck or rear-wheel drive car for power. The vehicle would have its rear end elevated and set on jack stands, one wheel removed, and the mixer bolted on to the wheel lugs. The mixer would incorporate calibrated volume material hoppers and dispense into buckets or wheelbarrows. See Cart Away's Haiti Project for an example of a more complex, higher production version of this. See this article for an example of using a car wheel to power a stationary machine. Good project for a team of ME's.
Sea Turtle Data Logger
A researcher at LLU has requested a rugged data logger for collecting position and velocity information from sea turtles swimming in the ocean. Interesting project for one or two EE's. See Dr.Aamodt for more information.
Tunable Antenna
Dr.Frohne would like to have a shortwave antenna whose length is remotely adjustable, between 16 and 36 feet. Good project for an ME or a mechanically inclined EE. See his description for more details.
New Generation Dust Collection System
Hundreds of thousands of Americans use power saws and other woodworking machines at home. These machines produce fine dust particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs where they can cause cumulative damage to lung tissue. One study found levels of particles in a good home woodworking shop to be 12,000 times the maximum acceptable level of a commercial cabinet shop! Existing approaches to extracting dust from the machines relies on a big motor spinning a big impeller to pull air through duct work or hoses from each machine into a stack of filters or a cyclone dust separator. These systems are very expensive if they are effective at removing the small particles from the air stream. A new approach is needed, and I have some ideas I would like investigated.
Inexpensive Dust Particle Measurement
The appalling state of home workshop air quality will inevitably lead to legal or legislative action. There is going to be a huge need for a simple, inexpensive method of monitoring fine particulate levels. It needs to distinguish between the 0.5-10 micron particles that are especially harmful and the larger dust particles that are easily visible. The project can be divided into two parts, researching sensing methods, and building a prototype system. Good project for a couple of EE's or an EE and a Physics or Bioengineering student.
Smart Battery Charger
Lots of battery chargers and battery charger IC's are available, but a need still remains for a battery monitoring and charging circuit which is built-in to the battery pack, and monitors the voltage of each cell during use, and pulse charges each cell individually during charging. The circuit would be implemented with a low-power microcontroller, such as the TI MSP430, an isolated DC-DC convertor to power the microcontroller, and a set of MOSFETS for selecting individual cells for monitoring or charging. This scheme will work with arbitrarily large stacks of cells, but I want something that will at least work up to 18V packs. The circuit needs to provide visible indication of level of discharge, charging state, and dead cells. It also would be useful to have some simple communications emulating a generic UPS for use in embedded PC battery- backup. Good EE project.
Walla Walla Children's Museum Seismograph
A new Children's Museum is being planned in Walla Walla, and we have the opportunity to build some neat science and engineering exhibits. One device that is always popular at science centers is a seismograph for monitoring earth motion. This would sense both near ground motions (children jumping up and down) and distant earthquakes. A display would show a moving chart-type graph of the seismometer signal in real time, and a less-frequently updated display of previous time periods. Good project for an EE.
Walla Walla Children's Museum Crane Control Exhibit
Another exhibit that would have a lot of appeal at the new Children's Museum would be a simple two or three degree of freedom crane that would have closed-loop control to eliminate the pendulum effect when moving a load. Children would attempt to move an object from one point to another as quickly as possible, first without the computer assist (when the load would swing wildly), and second with the computer feedback and control removing the swing. A third mode of operation would be a fully automatic demonstration of the computer moving the load between the two points. Good project for a mechanically inclined EE, computer savvy ME, or an EE/ME team interested in feedback and control applications.
Systematic Residential Heating/Cooling
The typical home has a number of independent HVAC systems that sometimes work against each other. These are air heating and cooling, water heating, food refrigeration, and food freezing. A system design that could combine these heat sources and sinks would greatly improve efficiency. This project would include system design for a typical residential house and thermodynamic analysis. Construction of the system would be beyond the scope of the project. An ME student interested in environmental issues and HVAC might enjoy this project.
Improved Stimulus for Acoustic Refraction and Reflection Seismometry
The current source of acoustical energy for the seismic refraction/reflection system is a five pound sledge hammer swung by an energetic civil engineer. A metal plate on the ground helps couple the kinetic energy of the hammer into the ground. This is a very crude system, and the efficiency of energy transfer is very poor. An improved system that couples an acoustic impulse into the ground with good efficiency and repeatability would be a tremendous enhancement to the system. Possible energy sources are hand-cranked spring mechanisms (like crossbow), CO2 cartridges, paint ball compressed air tanks, propane cylinder, or powder-actuated-tool (stud gun) cartridges. Good ME project.
Field Data Collection System
Several types of civil engineering instruments for collecting information about soil characteristics need to have the data merged with position information from a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver for the creation of specialized maps. These instruments put out data in several forms, digital or analog. A general purpose data collection computer system needs to be assembled that will collect the field data and GPS data, and store and display this data during field surveys. The hardware used will be commercially available, but there will be interesting custom software required to interface to the field instruments and provide a simple user interface. Interfacing to a smart phone, such as an Android or iPhone would be an excellent approach. Good CpE project.
Humidity-based Bathroom Fan Controller
Residential bathroom fans are usually controlled by a simple timer. A user sets the timer for a certain number of minutes before or after taking a shower. Rarely a motion sensor will be used to run the fan, or the fan is simply hard-wired to the bathroom light. A smarter alternative would be to use a humidity sensor to detect elevated levels of moisture, especially when wall surfaces are cold enough to cause condensation. High levels of moisture would cause the fan to run until the humidity level drops below acceptable limits. Many new low-cost humidity sensors are becoming available, making this a feasable project. The goal would be a modular controller that can fit in a single-gang electrical box in place of a timer. Good self-contained project for one EE.
Submarine Model Instrumentation
Professor Yaw has a plastic scale model of a typhoon class Soviet submarine. The model is currently made so that bars may be threaded into the top of the model at two points along its length. Someone needs to design a "load" frame that will hold the model in the open channel flow machine in the fluids lab. The frame should be set up also so that the force acting on the submarine may be carefully measured. Then the drag coefficient of the submarine model may be computed and compared to the actual submarine drag coefficient by the principles of similitude. If the frame and instrumentation is designed appropriately other similar objects could be submerged or partially submerged in the open channel flow machine and drag coefficients could be determined. Likely students for this project would be mechanical or electrical. Project advisers could be some of the following, Prof. Riley, Stirling, Sih, Yaw

Plumbing/Irrigation Projects

Motorizing Ball Valves
Small brass ball valves are an inexpensive, rugged, low-maintenance plumbing component. They are used for shutoff valves in every residence. It would be useful to be able to control them from a home automation system or sprinkler controller. Motorized ball valves are available from a number of suppliers, but they are generally expensive, and must be purchased as a unit. What is needed is a simple, low-cost motor and gearbox that can be attached to an existing ball valve, without disturbing the plumbing connection. Only valves from 1/2" to 1-1/2" NPT would be addressed in this project. This is a good, well-defined project for one ME, with definite market potential. There will be an opportunity to make some injection molds and have plastic parts molded.
Wireless Valve Control
Simple wireless standards and devices have become recently available, permitting the design of low cost, low power wireless devices that operate in a "mesh" topology, relaying data from device to device until it gets back to the destination. One such standard is Zigbee. A good project for a couple of EE's is to design a low-cost wireless controller for irrigation valves (such as those described above) using Zigbee or similar protocol.
Plant Moisture Measurement
Determining how long to water plants has always been a lot of guesswork. Some efforts have been made to measure soil moisture to guess if plants have enough water, but there is a need for low-cost sensors that measure moisture content of plant leaves directly. Such a sensor could use the Zigbee nodes described above to transmit moisture data to the controlling host. Another good EE project.

Civil/Structural Engineering Projects

For more information on the ideas below, please see Prof. Louie Yaw.

  • A footbridge or small vehicle bridge over a river.
  • A pedestrian bridge over College Avenue.
  • A fictitious or real office building.
  • A residential dwelling (requires engineering by use of timber design principles, not code conventional construction).
  • Design a new Eiffel tower or Space Needle.
  • Design a (true) gantry crane for a shipyard (not an overhead crane like in the Structures Lab). See an example crane.
  • Design an Engineering Annex across 4th St for new Manufacturing and Robotics Lab facilities.


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