Two project-based events bookended winter break for students in the College of Engineering.
Mechanical Engineering (MechE) students presented their group projects at the MechE Design Expo in mid-December. Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) students (and those from other disciplines in and outside of the College of Engineering) used their first week back on campus to design and build a team project for Build18. Here are some highlights.
Fun and games
Recreational activities are always relatable sources of inspiration for students looking to focus on a fun project. Machines to improve table games appeared at both showcases, one on a ping pong table and a second on an air hockey table. Pinball, video games, and even enhanced sports training equipment were available for visitors and judges to try out as well.
A group of ECE sophomores created an arm attachment for an air hockey table. It senses and predicts where the puck will be so you can play against a virtual opponent. Team: Hojun Byun, Junwon Chang, Alvin Shek, Venkata Vivek Thallam, Yang Yue.
Looking into a niche market, a group of MechE seniors designed a special pinball machine with auto-leveling capabilities. The pitch of the machine can be adjusted to affect the difficulty, allowing for all levels of play. The machine can also change its pitch mid-game for an extra challenge. Team: Isabelle Ahn, Molly Boerner, Dominique Brych, Cynthia Cano, Samanatha Ealy.
Inspired by the novel and Netflix movie Bird Box, one team created a virtual reality (VR) experience in which the player travels on a boat. Between the five team members, they are studying mechanical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, biomedical engineering , chemical engineering, business administration, and interdisciplinary studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities & Social Sciences. Team: CJ May, Jessica Lew, Sakshi Roongta, Stephanie Tam, Abbey Vesco.
Sophomores in ECE worked with Bill Nace, an associate teaching professor, and a junior studying statistics and data science to reverse-engineer a VR game. “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” is a bomb-defusal simulator in which the player in the VR headset (or in this case, handling the bomb replica made from a plastic case) describes features on the bomb while players with analog paper manuals dictate how to interact in order to safely defuse it. Team: Maxwell Johnson, Jeffrey Luo, Bill Nace, Shivani Prasad, Jason Xu.
MechE students, one of whom is on the CMU football team, worked with a teammate studying computer science to create a smart, mobile net to speed up football practice. The Real Megatron can adjust its location in real-time to better catch a football that is thrown to it. This team won the Build18 Lab Rat Award for interesting concepts. Team: Lior Barhai, Justin Belardi, Alex Byrnes, Nicholas Calzolano.
A group of weightlifting enthusiasts in MechE created a machine that can spot a lifter in the gym. This machine relieves lifters from having to find someone to watch over them while they train. Team: Vida Ekhlas, Andrew Harter, Reed Farber, Wade Lacey, Shani Rosenthal.
A group of master’s students from MechE and the Integrated Innovation Institute created a machine that will help you improve your return in table tennis, not unlike a serving machine you might see on a larger tennis court. Team: Stamatios Athiniotis, Edward Bruge, Michael Brough.
In the age of Alexa, Chromecast, and everything smart, anything in the home is a potential candidate for the internet of things. ECE students made digital improvements to an antique table, a board you can colorize with a wave of your hand, and even a house plant that can talk to you. MechE students faced off to create foldable furniture that can reduce shipping hassle and cost. They also looked to improve the process of prepping food by making machines do the work for you.
Juniors in MechE and Computer Science started with an antique table that had lost its glass pane top. Using light strips, the group refurbished the table into an aesthetic new piece of furniture that could even play simple games like Pong. Their group won the Build18 Lutron Award for the most novel home automation project. Team: Nikolai Flowers, Justine Olshan, Vinay Mitta.
Seniors and juniors in MechE, ECE, Human-Computer Interaction, and Psychology worked together to create a colorful light panel called the miniFighter, which reacts to human proximity. Visitors could move a hand or their head near the board to light a path, illuminating and re-coloring the squares in a rainbow pattern. This group won the Builders’ Choice Award at Build18 this year. Team: Qianyi Chen, Candia Gu, Sarah Hempton, Shanel Huang.
Students from ECE, MechE, and Computer Science worked on a proof-of-concept project called Leaf Me Alone which uses plants as sensors. Touching the plant completes a circuit, which this group uses to trigger audio files so the plant can “talk” to visitors listening in headphones. The project could scale to house plants responding to getting watered, scenery setting a tone in a haunted house, or many other options. They won the Faculty/Staff Choice Award and Qualcomm’s Internet of Things Award at Build18. Team: Irene Lin, Kimberly Lo, Christian Manaog.
Groups of master’s students taking MechE Professor Rahul Panat’s Electromechanical Systems Design course went head-to-head by designing either a train coupler, folding ladder, or folding piece of furniture. This group designed an expandable standing-height table with folding leaves for easy storage. Team: Craig Stephen, Kaushik Apte, Gokul Suryamurthy, Nishant Sharma.
The other group of master’s students in MechE Professor Rahul Panat’s Electromechanical Systems Design course designed a chair from flat wooden shapes and hinges. The chair can be packed flat for easier shipping and can also be easily customized with paint or different types of wood. Team: Nikkhil Agrawal, Lior Barhai, Kushagra Varshneya, Nathan Walko.
Senior students in MechE and BME looking for help in the kitchen worked on an attachment stand mixer. This group had to take into account a lot of potential textures, from thick batter to sloshy liquids, when figuring out how to engineer for mixing, scraping, and sturdiness. Team: Emily Broude, Alan French, Simone Schneeberg, Bridget Soderna, Justine Zeller.
Alexa can do almost anything for you with voice commands, assuming she has the right gear. Looking for a tasty, no-effort treat, this team set up a rig that can suction bread and cheese in order to move sandwich components to a conveyer belt. The sandwich ends up in a panini press, down a chute, and into the hands of the hungry person waiting at the end. Team: Evan Hill, Mitchell Riek, Taylor Tabb.
Whether students reside on campus or live nearby, they all see the day-to-day upkeep that staff members in facilities management and dining services provide. Students sought to make restroom maintenance efficient, to keep traveling food from jostling too much, to comb beaches and lawns for garbage, and even to use a robot to paint CMU’s Carnegie tartan design all on its own.
With hotel and dormitory upkeep in mind, this team of MechE students looked to improve a toilet paper roll holder by adding an automatic restocking element. Their prototype can hold six rolls, greatly reducing the number of times a human needs to stop by for restocking. Team: Asad Dar, Hao Feng, Elizabeth Kuo, Samantha Lohier, Morgan Stanley.
Not all toilets get used equally, so do they need to be cleaned equally? These students studying ECE, MechE, and CS created a device that can track how often toilets are used without collecting any private information. Their idea is to inform janitorial staff about which stalls need more frequent attention than others, making the flow of work more efficient. For their innovation, this group received the Media Magician Award at Build18. Team: Bobbie Chen, Alan Qiu, Raghu Venkatesh, Mitchell Yang.
Cars aren’t the only vehicles that can use shocks. This group of MechE students chose to apply technology that lessens shockwaves to fancy food and glassware, making catering a breeze. Team: James McMurray, Victoria Britcher, Marcus Horn, Noah Berhanu.
This group of MechE master’s students designed a beach-combing robot for a small step towards a greener tomorrow. The group made the robot remote-controlled, so people would not need to walk beaches themselves to operate it. This opens up jobs to more people of varying ability levels instead of simply replacing human labor with automation. Team: Kian Gruszczynski, Molly Mercer, Suhan Kim, Qiaojie Zheng.
A group of sophomores in MechE, Engineering & Public Policy, Computer Science, and Chemistry took inspiration from the Carnegie clan’s tartan, a four-color pattern, which is CMU’s school “color” (or pattern, really). Since painting or applying multiple colors is no easy task, the group sought to design a robot that could follow a digital pattern that translated to physical spray cans taking turns to achieve the tartan look. This group won the Build18 First Penguin Award, a reference to a metaphor made by late CMU Professor Randy Pausch about being brave enough to try new things, much like the first penguin to dive into the water. Team: Fatima Basit, Rachel Hsin, Mina Nowroozi, Louis Plottel, Tina Wu.
Engineers construct all sorts of materials, devices, and tools that can be used for research, communication, and education. A handful of groups chose to use their projects to create materials that can help teach the world something new.
The development of prostheses needs to be tailored to each individual looking for a new limb. This group of MechE master’s students created a device that can be adjusted to mirror a client’s height and width so researchers can collect better calculations about how hip trajectory affects a client-patient’s gait. Team: Malhar Bhoite, Timothy Kyung, Colin Grossman-Cross.
Seniors in ECE and Computer Science created the Enig-Much Better Machine, a cryptography system that improves upon the flaws of the Enigma Machine used by German forces in World War II. The original machine ciphers messages, swapping each instance of the same letter to a different letter to create what appears to be a jumble. However, the Enigma Machine would never randomly pair the same letter (e.g. A could never map to A in the encoded version of the message), making the message decryption easier to predict. This group won the Build18 Officer’s Choice Award for their improvement. Team: Ethan Bless-Wint, Alisa Chang, Wai Sing Ching, Michaela Laurencin.
A group of sophomores in ECE sewed circuitry into gloves to create a tool for teaching or communicating in Morse code, which they call the Tappy Glove. Two participants can each wear a pair of gloves to communicate by tapping Morse code and feeling the taps of their partner. They won Build18 HRT Award for C++ hardware. Team: Joe Finn, Adam Quinn, Arjun Raguram, Sam Rainey, Eric Schneider.
Juniors in MechE and ECE teamed up to create Codeblox, a programmable robot that can teach coding techniques to anyone old enough to understand building blocks. Participants use magnetic blocks to create a chain that visually represents how a program goes through its steps. At Build18, this team won the Intel Award for most outstanding project, the Rockwell Award for best proof of concept, and the Sponsors’ Choice Award for most outstanding project, making it the winningest project of the year. Team: Katherine Choy, Melodee Li, Eric Maynard, Emily Wong, Joe Zhao.
To view more photos from Build18, visit their Flickr page: