Though they dropped their beacon system onto a concrete floor, submerged it in water and subjected it to extreme temperatures, five University of Arizona students won the $5,000 grand prize for their project at Engineering Design Day 2019 on April 29.
The Raytheon-sponsored team created a mesh network of beacons over remote areas that can transmit emergency signals from a phone application to a central location, such as a ranger station. The beacons can survive a 5-foot freefall, 30 minutes under a foot of water and temperatures ranging from minus 40 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. The team, which also won the Prototron Circuits Award for Best Printed Circuit Design, designed the app and a mechanism to drop the beacons from a drone in addition to the beacons themselves.
“It’s unreal,” said team member and mechanical engineering major Sam LaMont of the wins. “The second they said our name, it was just all the emotions at once.”
Another member of the winning team, systems engineering major Luis Gama, once got lost on a hike in California and ran out of water himself. It would be much more serious, he said, to face such a situation in the heat of Arizona, where about 600 search-and-rescue missions are conducted each year.
Engineering Design Day brought together 616 students, who worked on 118 industry- and faculty-sponsored projects over an academic year, vying for $36,250 in cash prizes. More than 120 industry judges assessed the projects.
“Be inspired by these young engineers,” said interim Dean Larry Head. “This is the precipice. This is the beginning of some really great things.”
Lifesaving Theme Runs Deep
The top team’s project wasn’t the only lifesaving invention. Winners of the ACSS/L-3 Communications Award for Most Robust Systems Engineering created a wireless body temperature sensor that integrates with implantable medication ports, such as those used by chemotherapy patients.
“Because chemotherapy patients get fevers much more easily than normal people, our sponsor wanted a way to more actively monitor the temperature of the patient,” said team lead and biomedical engineering senior Josh Pace. “The device will detect your temperature and send it to your phone via Bluetooth.”
You just come away from a day like today feeling renewed. I couldn't believe the sheer volume of projects and the diversity of disciplines within each project."
Additionally, the first all-woman prize-winning team in Design Day’s 17-year history created a device that measures the age of bruises to aid in child abuse investigations. They won the Ball Aerospace Go Beyond Award for Pioneering Design. Another group designed a software system for a drone that flies into disaster areas and gathers information for first responders.
“I liked the challenge, and I like the fact that it’s going to be used for humanitarian missions,” said team member Emanuel Inacio, an electrical and computer engineering major. “There are so many things I did while building the software that I had no idea about, so I learned on the go.”
Bootstrapping Fresh Ideas
More than 50 of the judges at Engineering Design Day were UA alumni, including Jay Sampson, who served as a judge for the first time this year.
“You just come away from a day like today feeling renewed,” said the 1987 College of Fine Arts graduate who went on to work for companies such as Microsoft and Adobe. “I couldn’t believe the sheer volume of projects and the diversity of disciplines within each project. You saw people come together who typically wouldn’t work on a class project together, but they bootstrapped together to do a project.”
Students across the board agreed that senior engineering design projects provide opportunities to put the theories they learn in class into action, and to learn some new skills along the way.
“I have never learned so much in my life,” said Christopher Hughes, an electrical and computer engineering student on a team that designed an electric propulsion system for a scooter. “I would spend entire weekends -- 10-hour days -- surface mount soldering and detecting currents and running motors. It’s fascinating. It’s frustrating. It’s rewarding.”
Inventions With Lasting Impact
Rick Church, an engines and power systems engineer at Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix, said the team he sponsored, which created a method to measure the temperature of a rotor, took a first step toward a project that could solve a problem the company’s engineers face every day.
“We’ll probably sponsor another project next year to continue it,” he said. “It’s fun for them, and it’s cheap for us. They exceeded my expectations.”
Some of the projects hit even closer to home. For example, a team of chemical engineering students created a heat exchanger network cart to replace the decade-old apparatus in the chemical and environmental engineering department. Another team developed a device to repurpose 3D-printing waste, like that produced in places on campus like the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Building’s machine shop.
“We overcame a lot of obstacles and went through a lot of iterations,” said mechanical engineering senior Emma Barrett. “It took a lot of effort, but being able to present at Design Day and show our project makes all the hard work worth it.”