Earlier today, I had the privilege of judging the Capstone Senior Projects for the ECE 189 A/B class at UCSB. A few months ago, my good friend and professor for the class, Dr. John Johnson, asked me if I would like to participate as a judge, and I immediately said yes. It was an amazing opportunity to get an in depth look at what his students had been working on for the past year.
My first observation is that teaching methods have changed a lot in the 25 years since I graduated from RPI with my electrical engineering degree. The most I had ever built during my undergraduate experience were a few bread board circuits in the lab, and I had the chance to write some assembly code for a 68030 Motorola microprocessor.
The 7 groups in Dr. Johnson’s class were tasked with selecting a project, specifying the components, laying out a printed circuit board (PCB), sending it out for manufacturing, powering up and debugging the board, and integrating the hardware with software to create a functional product.
A detailed description of all seven projects can be found on the class page for ECE 189 by clicking here, but here is a brief description of each of the projects:
- Track Mate – a GPS tracking and MP3 players for athletes
- Smart Cart – an interactive display for shopping carts
- Smart Guitar – a device that picks up analog signals from a guitar and displays the data as music notes
- AFRObot – an autonomous robot that follows and traces existing lines with high precision
- Swell Alert – a Wi-fi connected alarm clock that uses data from public sources to monitor surf conditions
- M.A.D. Dog – a robot that maps office spaces before going on security patrol
- Mu.S.E. – a music player that automatically selects music based on the environment
Each of the groups had chosen very complex projects, and it was amazing to see the progress they were able to make in such a short amount of time. Each group had two 10-week sessions to build the hardware and software, with a 10-week break between sessions during which their printed circuit boards were manufactured and assembled. Each group was able to demonstrate a piece of working hardware, with some groups making more progress than others. In fact, a couple of the groups had projects that were close to being finished products.
The groups were also well prepared, had clear and polished project presentations, and handled questions from the audience effortlessly. The presentations were not only a reflection of the effort the students put into their projects but also of the effort Dr. Johnson, his Teaching Assistant, and the rest of the support staff in UCSB’s ECE department put into helping the students. To say I walked away impressed is an understatement.
Amongst all of this, myself and two others had to judge these projects and select a winner, which was not an easy task. In the end, it came down to two projects that separated themselves from the pack – the AFRObot and Swell Alert. In the end, there could only be one winner, and after quite a bit of debate, we selected Swell Alert.
I’d like to congratulate the Swell Alert team, as well as the AFRObot and other Capstone project teams for a job well done. And I’d like to personally thank my friend John for asking me to be a judge and hope that I’ll have an opportunity to do it again.