Category: Senior Design

ECE Seniors Share an Intention to Improve Societal Issues by Improving Technology

June 12th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, Courses, Events, Recognition, Senior Design, Undergraduate Students, Video

By Gabriella McNevin

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 ECE Day 2014

Senior Capstone Design and Honors Thesis students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) spent May 5, 2014 showcasing projects that represented the culmination of their education at Boston University.

Each presentation accomplished more than just entertain the audience; it earned its creators their due respect. Topics covered technology like a 3D printer scanner, a remote controlled helicopter, and a Mario Kart video game.

During team 6’s presentation, “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins blared through the speakers. The big screen streamed a video of a search and rescue remote controlled car, which the team programmed to patrol a fire hazard site for survivors. (Click the controller to listen to “Danger Zone”).

Earlier in the day, the team that created EPIC/ EpiPen Calls concluded their presentation with a spirited Q&A. A number of people –including team members, the client that requested technological support, and a panel of judges– raised their voice to speak about the real-world application and potential of the invention.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

The commercial application that teams intend for their projects were as diverse as the equipment they used. The purpose of the designs ranged from assisting the visually impaired, to improving search and rescue missions, to generating alternative energy harvesting methods.

A panel of ECE alumni judges watched each presentation and asked questions to pick a winner for five of the ECE Day Awards. The judges were well prepared to make the call because each had once walked in the students’ shoes and all are currently executing the engineering skills that they realized during their Senior Capstone Design Course. ECE graduates Peter Galvin, Mikhail Gurevich, Craig Laboda, Ryan Lagoy, George Matthews, Drew Morris, Bradley Rufleth, Dan Ryan and Stephen Snyder served as the 2014 judges. Each missed work –at companies such as General Electric, Microsoft, ByteLite, and Btiometry– to share insight with the graduating class of 2014, and decide the most impressive project.

“Wow,” muttered an impressed audience member after the AutoScan team calmly countered questions posed by judges on the technical depth of the team’s invention. The team’s pothole detection system demonstrated the technical skill that is only achievable by a team of well-matched individuals with different specialties.

The dynamic skill sets within each team is key in assembling the ECE Senior Capstone Design Project teams. Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE) coordinated 20 well-rounded teams by measuring individual strengths. For example, he placed students that gravitate towards user interface development with those who lean towards sensor analytics or java script programming.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

The team members that created AutoScan contributed either their hardware or software know-how to develop the project that won Best ECE Senior Design Project Award, 2014. The team was also nominated to show a poster of their project at the national Capstone Design Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The mission of the Capstone Design Conference in Columbus is to improve design-based courses around the country. On June 2nd, Professor Pisano and team members Vinny DeGenova, Stuart Minshull, Nandheesh Prasad, Austen Schmidt, and Charlie Vincent flew to Ohio for the two-day event. Professor Pisano led a workshop on assembling strong design teams.

A significant feature of the Senior Design Capstone project is the team client. Each team is paired with a client. The client (who is either a professor or actively working) requests software and/or hardware for a particular problem that will improve a societal issue.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

The principle of a school in Boston that specializes in mentally and physically disabled student academics posed a task for one ECE senior design team. Carter School Principal Marianne Kopaczynski requested a learning tool that would impart fundamental communication and cognitive skills to students. The students created a user-friendly devise called the Automated Announcement System that generates announcements based on each student’s location. Principle Kopaczynski plans to install the system in the school to support location-based feedback learning.

ECE Day Award Winners

Best ECE Senior Design Project Award AutoScan
Entrepreneurial Award Cloud 3D Scanner
Design Excellence Award Cement Impedance Analyzer
Design Excellence Award dDOSI Spectrum Analysis Unit (dSAU)
Michael F. Ruane Award for Excellence in Senior Capstone Design Samuel Howes
Senior Honors Thesis Award Julie Frish, “Development of Low Loss Waveguides for Mid-Infrared Integrated Photonic Circuits”
Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award Andrew Kelley
Teacher of the Year Ajay Joshi
Graduate Teaching Fellow of the Year/Teaching Assistant of the Year Lake Bu

Congratulations, Class of 2014!
Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography © 2010 Boston University all rights reserved.

 

By Gabriella McNevin

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Andrew Kelley Wins The Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award

May 19th, 2014 in Alumni, Awards, Events, Recognition, Research, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students, Video

Kelley found his passion while working with the BU Satellite Program & Rocket Group

By Gabriella McNevin

On May 5, 2014, Andrew Kelley (middle) received The Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award at the senior capstone event, ECE Day. Standing to Kelley's left is Associate Professor Semeter, and to Kelley's right is ECE Department Chair Professor David Castañón. Photo by Chitose Suzuki  for Boston University Photography.

From left to right: Associate Professor Semeter, Andrew Kelley (ENG ’14), and ECE Department Chair Professor David Castañón. Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography.

Andrew Kelley (ENG ’14) won The Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award for his contribution to the BU Satellite Program and the Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group. The award recipient was decided by the Director of the BU Center of Space Physics, Professor John Clarke (AS); and Associate Director of the BU Center for Space Physics, Professor Joshua Semeter (ECE).

Kelley’s success was achieved in a relatively short period of time. Kelley entered BU excited to gain a versatile education in computer engineering in an accelerated 3-year program. For his first two years, like many, Kelley was unsure of his passion and did not know what career would best unite his academic skills and interests. He explored the possibilities by researching extracurricular activities that involved computer engineering. Ultimately, Kelley joined his first space program venture after his freshman year, and realized his passion in the field after his second year. It was not until his third and final year at Boston University, that Kelley dove, head-first, into space programs.

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Andrew Kelley showing off one of the BU Rocket Propulsion Group’s model rockets in Amesbury, MA.

A future that blended computer engineering and space programs was first proposed to Kelley at Splash Day his freshmen year. Splash Day is an annual fair that features student organizations. Kelley recalls noticing a ten-foot model rocket hoisted on the shoulders of two students laughing and jogging to the opposite side of the field. He thought to himself, “follow those footsteps!” The name of the student organization in charge of that rocket, now known as the BU Rocket Propulsion Group, was painted on the side.

Before joining a team, Kelley weighed his enthusiasm about the BU Rocket Propulsion Group with his interest in other groups, and his collegiate goals. He spent the remaining year developing relationships with organization members, contemplating rocketry, and discovering how to best manage his time.

At the end of the academic year, Kelley and a member of the Rocket Propulsion Group were chatting about the organization. Kelley’s friend expressed some concern about the group’s leadership. The group insider mentioned that the vice president was expected to graduate with no prospect of a predecessor. Instinctively Kelley responded, “I will do it.”

Two years later, Kelley recalls those four words as the best he ever said. Joining the group helped Kelley to realize his passion for space programs, and introduced him to a network of some of his most trusted advisors, including Professor Semeter and Principal Fellow at Raytheon Missile Systems Joe Sebeny.

Towards the end of his second year at BU, Kelley was at a crossroad. He needed a summer job, and had been denied internships at Google and Microsoft. Uninterested in returning to his home in Texas, Kelley took the advice of Professor Semeter and applied to work at Boston University Student Satellite for Applications and Training program, specifically ANDESITE. It was a pivotal time for the satellite program, as it had recently been awarded an Air Force Research Laboratory grant and joined a national competition to win the opportunity to launch a satellite to orbit. As one of the newest members to the satellite program, the Texan embraced the organization’s mission to design, fabricate, and operate a low-earth-orbiting satellite.

ECE Day

Kelley stands ready to present a poster on his honors thesis research topic at ECE Day. Photo by Chitose Suzuki for Boston University Photography.

In September 2013, the beginning of Kelley’s final year at BU, his extracurricular and academic interests melted into one. Kelley opted to complete his academic capstone requirements by completing an honors thesis, rather than a senior design project. His theses work, entitled “Design and Implementation of a 3-DOF Rocket Autopilot,” advanced both the BU Student Satellite and supported the BU Rocket Propulsion Group.

“Design and Implementation of a 3-DOF Rocket Autopilot” provided an analysis and design investigation of rocket trajectory systems to develop a functioning autopilot. Without trajectory control, a rocket would run the risk of becoming a missile.

After graduation, Kelley will spend a week with his family in Fort Worth, Texas before jet-setting to Los Angles, California to be a Space X intern.  Kelley will be involved in vehicle and systems integration for the Dragon capsule.

Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group Watch the group’s second hot fire test:

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EE Seniors Win GizmoSphere Contest

April 2nd, 2014 in Awards, News-CE, Recognition, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Students

Projects Automates Pothole Detection and Management
By Mark Dwortzan

IMG_7335_WEB_READY

The AutoScan senior design team consists of Austen Schmidt (systems integration), Nandheesh Prasad (power engineering), Charlie Vincent (networking and GPS),Vinny DeGenova (image processing) and Stuart Minshull (Web application).

Gizmosphere_WEB_READY

The AutoScan prototype consists of a Gizmo board, depth sensing camera, system battery and other components. The system is designed to be mounted under the front bumper of a city vehicle and scan the road for potholes.

The impact of a  long and stormy winter continues to be felt on the roads. According to the Boston Globe, this year the City of Boston has already filled more than 8,800 potholes, primarily reported by drivers, including one in Cleveland Circle that sent a man to the hospital. Taking a more proactive approach could prevent vehicular damage, injuries and claims against the city while saving time and money for all concerned.

Now a vehicle mounted pothole detection system developed by Electrical Engineering seniors as part of their senior design project aims to do just that. Instead of relying on citizens to report potholes or paying crews to look for them, the system, known as AutoScan, could enable city vehicles to detect them automatically as they go about their daily routes. Coupled with tracking and scheduling software and incorporating a low-cost, embedded technology development platform called a Gizmo board, the system could provide a comprehensive and economical road repair solution.

Reviewers at GizmoSphere, which makes the Gizmo board, agree. Dazzled by a $1,000 prototype of AutoScan, they awarded the team first prize in a video contest.

“The low cost, achieved through the extensive use of open source solutions, made it compelling to the Gizmo community,” said Scott Hoot, president of GizmoSphere. “But the idea of how seamlessly this idea fit into the Internet of Things, made the BU project a winner. Clearly this is a project that takes close to real-time measurements in the physical world, and utilizes those measurements through the open standards available in the Internet.”

The AutoScan senior design team consists of Austen Schmidt (systems integration), Vinny DeGenova (image processing), Nandheesh Prasad (power engineering), Charlie Vincent (networking and GPS) and Stuart Minshull (Web application). The EE seniors developed their prototype under the supervision of ECE Adjunct Professor Babak Kia, who often assumed the role of prospective customer.

While there are several solutions available that can quickly measure potholes on a mobile platform, ranging from lasers to accelerometers, the EE team focused on a “time-of-flight” infrared camera that determines distance between the camera and various points in its field of view.

“Our system is basically an onboard computer that mounts to the bottom of a city vehicle, such as a bus,” said Schmidt. “As the bus goes along, it uses the infrared camera to scan the road for potholes and computes their depth, and sends the data collected on each pothole—volume, GPS coordinates, time and date—over a cellular network to a database hosted by a website. The website interprets data coming in from multiple scanners, displays it on a Google map and updates a Web-accessible road repair schedule.”

Exploiting the Gizmo board and open source software, the team has advanced a prototype of a system that promises to cost a few thousand dollars, far cheaper than alternatives that can range from $10,000 to $100,000. The only sacrifice is a bit of accuracy.

“Our system is a little less accurate than our competitors, because they focus on applications where you really need high-fidelity detection, such as airport tarmacs or bridges,” said Minshull. “We wanted a cheaper way for potholes to be detected without having to worry about tracking millimeter-line cracks in the road.”

To put AutoScan to the test, the team used cardboard boxes to create an elevated road surface with cutouts of different volumes representing potholes. Tests showed that the system accurately measured the volume of each cutout and successfully relayed collected data to the website. Next steps include conducting high-speed tests beyond the lab environment, and finding a way to protect the unit against vibration and adverse weather conditions.

Engineering in the Alps

February 25th, 2014 in Alumni, Courses, Faculty, Graduate Programs, Graduate Students, News-CE, News-EP, News-ISS, Research, Research-EP, Research-ISS, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Students

Kevin Mader (ECE '08, MS '08, who is teaching at ETH Zürich, bikes in one of the side valleys of Engadin in the Swiss Alps.

Kevin Mader (ECE ’08, MS ’08), who is teaching at ETH Zürich, bikes in one of the side valleys of Engadin in the Swiss Alps.

As a master’s candidate studying Photonics at Boston University, Kevin Mader (ECE ’08, MS ’08) decided to become an Undergraduate Teaching Fellow, a position that allowed him to work with students and help them master difficult concepts.

“I felt like I could help students because I had just struggled with learning the concepts a year before and could relate well to what they were going through,” he said.

The experience made Mader realize he wanted to become a teacher and today, he is a lecturer at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, where he is hoping to inspire the next generation to get excited about engineering.

“I think that a lot of students lose interest in science and engineering early on because it becomes too technical before it gets interesting,” he said. “I hope to try and make it exciting without watering it down too much.”

Prior to living in Switzerland, Mader’s roots were in the United States, where he lived in California, Ohio, Oregon, and Massachusetts. Still, moving abroad wasn’t quite the challenge you might expect.

“For some things it is no adjustment at all – there are Starbucks and McDonald’s restaurants on nearly every street corner – but for other aspects getting used to a new language and a different culture can take some time,” he explained. “Luckily, students seem to be pretty similar all around the world and Zürich is a very international city so it’s never a problem finding interesting people and somewhere to fit in.”

As an undergraduate studying Electrical Engineering at BU, Mader worked closely with Senior Lecturer, Babak Kia, on his senior design project. Like in Switzerland, Mader never had any problems finding other researchers he could collaborate with effortlessly.

“He was a very effective team player, espousing a humble leadership style and patiently sharing his thoughts and ideas with his team,” said Kia, who served as Mader’s customer during senior design.

Mader’s team, Esplanade Runner, was tasked with enabling a robot to navigate a Google Maps route while avoiding obstacles in its path. Known as autonomous navigation, the project was assigned a few years before Google Street View cars were popularized.

Calling the research one of his “most valuable experiences at BU,” Mader said, “Our project was particularly cool since it was tangible: make a little car follow a route and avoid obstacles. It was also deceptively simple, and I learned how difficult it is to make timelines and get everything running on time. We spent a few nights in the lab banging our heads against the wall trying to synchronize our vehicle, compass, sensors, and GPS.”

The hard work ultimately paid off and their team won the ECE Day Best Presentation Award that year.

“Kevin could hardly contain his drive and enthusiasm throughout the project,” said Kia. “He has such a natural ability and curious mind for exploring the unknown that is just a joy to witness.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Mader decided to continue his studies by pursuing a master’s in Photonics at BU.

“Initially I was intrigued by Photonics because I had no idea what it really was and had studied in the building by that name for years,” said Mader. “After taking the introductory class I was surprised by how complicated imaging really is – iPhones make it so easy – and how much potential there was in the field.”

Mader had completed a summer internship at the Center for Biophotonics at the University of California, Davis, where he looked at how cellular spectroscopy and imaging could be used to detect cancer. Upon returning to BU, he decided to build upon what he learned by taking a course on imaging and microscopy with Professor Jerome Mertz (BME).

“What struck me about Professor Mertz from my first interaction with him was how much interest and passion he had for the science he was working on,” explained Mader. “He seemed like one of those people who would continue to do the exact same thing even after winning the lottery because he enjoyed it so much.”

Mader went on to work on his master’s thesis in Mertz’s laboratory, where he worked on improving bioluminescence imaging so that a small group of cells, like a tumor, could be detected without using lasers or X-rays.

“Kevin was great to work with – really creative,” said Mertz. “He could always look at things from different and unexpected perspectives that were really intriguing. I think he’ll make a great professor someday.”

Since completing his master’s, Mader has taken more steps toward eventually becoming a professor, including earning a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Biomechanics from ETH Zürich.

He has also earned a Pioneer Fellowship from the university, which will allow him to work toward pairing microscopes, MRIs and CT-scanners with tools that will turn pictures into meaningful statistics.

“There seems to be sufficient industrial interest. The real challenge will be connecting with the right people at the right times,” he said.

As Mader balances research with teaching, he continues to give his all in both.

“I think one of the best ways to really understand a topic is to have to disseminate it to other people,” he said. “In particular, I enjoy trying to connect abstract concepts like parallel computing to everyday ones like card games with friends.”

Truly committed to being the best teacher he can be, Mader can often be found tweaking his lecture slides minutes before a talk, even though he’d finished preparing weeks before.

Said Kia: “I have no doubt, not even for a second, that he will become a highly effective professor and that his deep passion for research and discovery will be surpassed only by his immense passion for his students.”

Learn more about Mader’s new company, 4Quant.

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)

Atlas Changing the Workout Experience

February 18th, 2014 in Alumni, Graduate Students, News-CE, News-EP, News-ISS, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Students

Mike Kasparian (ECE ’12, MS ’13)

As many of us try to stick to our New Year’s resolution of going to the gym more, we often find ourselves looking toward apps and equipment that can help us keep track of our progress.

Jawbone and Nike Fuel Band are just some of the wearable products on the market that allow you to keep track of this data, but what if these devices could be more customizable?

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Mike Kasparian (ECE ’12, MS ’13)

That’s the idea behind Atlas, the company founded by Mike Kasparian (ECE ’12, MS ’13) and his preschool friend, Peter Li.

Atlas tracks and identifies exercises, counts reps, calculates burned calories, and evaluates form. It also displays workouts live and is compatible with many popular fitness apps such as MapMyFitness.

Said Kasparian: “It’s one thing to come up with a great idea that will disrupt a technology, but it’s another thing to formulate the idea into a business and develop it into something that will one day not only generate revenue but also be in the hands of consumers.”

Li initially came up with the idea and contacted Kasparian to help with the hardware. Techstars, a startup accelerator in Austin, provided them office space, funding, and mentorship.

It was not an easy decision for Kasparian, who had a stable position at Philips Healthcare, to leave his day job. However, he took the risk and now holds the position of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the growing company.

The company gained funding through a campaign on indiegogo, a web platform that helps people raise money for new ideas and products. Atlas has surpassed its $125,000 fundraising goal, collecting over $450K.

Even though there is a lot of uncertainty associated with this venture, Kasparian feels that providing people with a personalized workout experience outweighs the risk.

Kasparian, who studied Electrical Engineering at Boston University, attributes the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering’s senior design course as having a significant impact on his career. He said, “It was really the first time I was able to fully apply all of the technical skills from my coursework toward a legitimate project.”

As his advisor, Professor Bakak Kia gave Kasparian invaluable help and guidance during senior design. Kia is very proud of Mike, saying, “To reach this level, where he is competing with some of the most innovative companies in this field, speaks volumes about Mike’s vision, ability, and the value of the education he has received at BU.”

While working on the project, MINSensory, for senior design, Kasparian said he learned the importance of both collaboration and taking feedback. He did both well, too, winning the top team prize, the P. T. Hsu Memorial Award for Outstanding Senior Design Project, and an individual honor, the Michael F. Ruane Award for Excellence in Senior Capstone Design.

Later, his M.S. research project involved designing the hardware platform that would be used in the Atlas wristband. Professor Ajay Joshi (ECE) was Kasparian’s academic and research advisor, and he advised him during the platform design process. Joshi believes “the fitness band market is just picking up” and said he hopes “the Atlas wristband becomes the preferred choice of most fitness enthusiasts.”

Kasparian continues to remain close to the department, serving as one of the judges for senior design last year and graduating with his M.S. in December.

- Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)

Discovering the Next Big Thing From a Dorm Room

January 13th, 2014 in Courses, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

This fall, Connor McEwen (ECE ’14) became one of 11 students chosen to work with the Dorm Room Fund's inaugural Boston group. Photo by Maddie Atkinson.

This fall, Connor McEwen (ECE ’14) became one of 11 students chosen to work with the Dorm Room Fund’s inaugural Boston group. Photo by Maddie Atkinson.

When Connor McEwen (ECE ’14) learned about Refresh, an energy-efficient vending machine designed by recent alums from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rhode Island School of Design, he knew this was an idea that showed potential and wanted to invest in it.

Not too many undergraduates have the ability to make a difference in getting a startup off the ground financially, but McEwen isn’t just any student. He’s one of the investment decision makers for the Dorm Room Fund.

The Dorm Room Fund, a student-run venture fund supported solely by Philadelphia-based First Round Capital, allows entrepreneurial students to have $500,000 to use toward investing in student startups over a two-year period. The program has roots in New York, Philadelphia, and Silicon Valley and came to Boston last fall, where members hope to invest in about 25 companies by 2015.

McEwen, who has been passionate about technology all of his life, was one of 11 students chosen to work with the Dorm Room Fund’s inaugural Boston group, who meet weekly at the Cambridge Innovation Center.

When it comes to investment strategy, McEwen said: “I personally am most interested in student-led tech startups that have the potential to really solve a problem and impact how we live our lives. Since our goal is to help students build their companies, I also like companies where I can understand and use the product and therefore help the most.”

McEwen, who is also a member of the BU Entrepreneurship club and runs a BU Startups newsletter, first became interested in entrepreneurship during his freshman year, thanks to his roommate, Nam Chu Hoai (CS ’14), who had previously worked at a startup.

“We started reading about them on a few websites, discussing companies, and working on an idea ourselves,” McEwen said.

He even took a year off to work on that project, Credport. Though he and Chu Hoai eventually realized that the market didn’t need their product, they learned a lot and McEwen called the time “a great experience.”

Today, when McEwen’s not working on the Dorm Room Fund, he’s back at Boston University working on his senior design project. He teamed up with biomedical engineering students in Assistant Professor Ahmad Khalil’s lab to design an LED device that will help improve synthetic biology experiments.

“Our device basically shines an LED light on a well plate, an enclosure holding a bunch of different cell samples, for a programmable duration, which will enable researchers in optogenetics and synthetic biology to run better experiments more efficiently and accurately,” said McEwen.

As a senior design mentor, Khalil has noticed that McEwen has shown great passion when applying his strong technological background toward his research.

“He brings infectious enthusiasm and wonderful ideas to the lab and is never reluctant to seek advice from my graduate students and me,” said Khalil.

Though McEwen initially thought about working on a startup-related project for senior design, he decided instead to focus his research on something he could only do at BU. Through this project, he’s able to utilize his own background in computer engineering and also work with students majoring in electrical, mechanical, and biomedical engineering.

That being said, his long-term focus remains the same. He doesn’t know exactly where he’ll be when he graduates this spring but he’s confident he’ll be working with a startup.

Interested in learning more about startups or the Dorm Room Fund? E-mail McEwen at cmcewen@bu.edu.

Related links:
12/3/13: The Boston Globe – “Young college investors back vending machine
10/29/13: The Daily Free Press – “Starting-up early
9/10/13: The Boston Globe – “First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund expands to Boston, with initial investments this fall

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)

ECE Department Requests Ideas for Senior Design Projects

August 8th, 2013 in Courses, Events, Faculty, News-CE, News-EP, News-ISS, Research, Research-CE, Research-EP, Research-ISS, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

Chris Hall (ECE '13), a member of the team, Choreographed LED Artwork, shows his team's project during ECE Day '13.

Chris Hall (ECE '13), a member of the team, Choreographed LED Artwork, shows his team's project during ECE Day '13.

Boston University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering seeks real world engineering challenges to give undergraduate seniors for their 2013 Senior Design Projects.

Each year, the ECE Department requests projects from industry, the government, non-profits, small businesses, and individuals to present to students as part of a year-long, team-based course. Students create a plan for solving the problem, design a solution, test a product, and present a prototype at the end of the spring semester.

Senior design projects give students a chance to work on a task that expands upon traditional classroom assignments and prepares them for future employment and real-world challenges.

Last May, seniors presented their work to ECE professors, alumni, and industry engineers. The top prize was awarded to the team, “Calibration Device for Microarray Slides,” whose members worked with Professor Selim Ünlü (ECE, BME) to develop a system for detection for microarray slides using an Interferometric Reflectance Imaging Sensor. The design has the potential to speed up disease detection in the future.

Take a look at examples of other projects from last year.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer customer, have any questions about the project, or would like to discuss potential ideas, please email Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE) at apisano@bu.edu.

Customers are not required to provide financial support but many have chosen to donate equipment or other resources. Project descriptions will be given to students at the beginning of September.

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)

Giving Voice Where There Is None

August 8th, 2013 in Alumni, Awards, Faculty, News-CE, News-EP, News-ISS, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

ENG Alums’ iPad App Helps Speech-Challenged Communicate

Verbal Care helps nonverbal patients communicate a desire for things like food, medicine, and pain relief by touching one of the large picture-based icons. Photo by Kelly Davidson.

Verbal Care helps nonverbal patients communicate a desire for things like food, medicine, and pain relief by touching one of the large picture-based icons. Photo by Kelly Davidson.

Every year, more than seven million people are affected by conditions that prevent them from speaking or understanding language. The disability may mean that stroke victims can’t tell a nurse that they need to use the bathroom, can’t share with their spouse that they are hungry, or can’t simply ask to please change the channel because they are about to watch a fourth straight episode of Law & Order.

To the rescue comes an iPad app designed by College of Engineering alumni Nick Dougherty, Eric Hsiao, and Gregory Zoeller (all CE ’12). Their creation, called Verbal Care, helps nonverbal patients communicate a desire for things like food, medicine, and pain relief by touching one of the large picture-based icons. After creating a few iterations of the software over the course of a year and testing in beta, the last stage of testing for a computer product, the trio will make the latest version of the app available in the iTunes store August 12.

“Our goal is to bridge the communication gap between patients and caregivers,” says Dougherty, CEO of Verbal Applications, the alums’ new company. “Patients will receive custom care faster, and hospitals will get money back in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements because of higher patient satisfaction scores.”

Verbal Care must be downloaded from the iTunes store and loaded onto an iPad. Once opened, the user is asked, “What would you like to say?” as nine icons pop up on the screen, among them “pain scale,” “food,” “bathroom,” and “entertainment.” Each category is subdivided into requests for certain types of food, for example, or a specific television station. Caregivers, who can receive the request on an iPad, can confirm requests with a “yes or no” module, and the app can also act as a rudimentary translation tool. Based on the needs of the patient, caregivers can add their own text, voice recordings, and images (“If the patient’s favorite food is Oreos, they can add that personal icon,” Zoeller says).

Caregivers can monitor a patient's request with the app. Photo courtesy of Verbal Care.

Caregivers can monitor a patient's request with the app. Photo courtesy of Verbal Care.

In addition to helping people who have trouble speaking, Verbal Care could one day make a difference for those with aphasia, a complex communication disorder caused most often by stroke. “Aphasia patients often mix up signals,” Hsiao says, “So our app has three different inputs, where they can see the pictures and icons, read the text, and hear audio feedback.”

After being challenged senior year to create a communications device by Theodore Morse, an ENG professor emeritus of electrical engineering, Dougherty, Hsiao, and Zoeller designed the Verbal Care app as part of ENG’s electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department senior design project. The three, along with former teammates Kenneth Zhong (ENG ’12) and Kholood Al Tabash (ENG ’12), won the ECE department’s Entrepreneurial Award and second place at the ENG Societal Impact Capstone Project Awards last year.

After graduating, Dougherty, Hsiao, and Zoeller formed their own business venture. Their research, shadowing nurses and speech pathologists at Massachusetts General Hospital, revealed some similar devices targeted specifically for aphasia patients, ALS patients, and stroke victims, but with price tags upwards of $7,500. Verbal Care was designed as a far more affordable app for all types of communications disorders. Currently the app is free, but Dougherty says it may be priced at around $10 a month, or $99 a year. The three alums also learned the importance of user-friendly design, which they achieved by using hard contrast, brighter colors, and very simple icons for patients with lower visibility, Hsiao says.

Nick Dougherty (from left), Gregory Zoeller, and Eric Hsiao (all CE '12) founded Verbal Care, which was selected for both the School of Management's 2013 ITEC New Venture Competition and the MassChallenge. Photo by Kelly Davidson.

Nick Dougherty (from left), Gregory Zoeller, and Eric Hsiao (all CE '12) founded Verbal Care, which was selected for both the School of Management's 2013 ITEC New Venture Competition and the MassChallenge. Photo by Kelly Davidson.

CEO Dougherty continues to meet with speech language pathologists, nurses, and patients to better understand what they need from the product. He also develops relationships with potential investors and hunts for grants. Zoeller, the COO, deals with pricing and projects how much money they will need from investors to become profitable and in what areas they should spend their money. Chief technology officer Hsiao oversees the product’s infrastructure and technology.

This summer, the three quit their jobs as web developers and software engineers to focus full-time on their business. They had plenty of encouragement – Verbal Care was selected both for the School of Management’s 2013 ITEC New Venture Competition, taking the People’s Choice Award, and the MassChallenge, an annual $1 million global accelerator program, two start-up camps where they could get excellent advice from experienced mentors. And while that advice is certainly helpful, Dougherty says, one of the most important lessons was learned while he was still a student.

“You have to be able to totally burn what you have and start over,” says Dougherty, who also founded the popular campus nonprofit Project Mailbox. “We’ve done Verbal over maybe four times. Every time it’s like a phoenix, where it crumbles to ashes and then rises out of the flames. I think there’s a lot to learn from that, and that’s the benefit of being a younger entrepreneur.”

The latest version of Verbal Care will be launched in the iTunes store on August 12. Users can e-mail the company for more information.

-Amy Laskowski, BU Today

Pitch Wins at Imagine Cup

June 10th, 2013 in Alumni, Awards, Events, News-CE, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students

From left to right: Nick Lippis, Brad Berk, Robins Patel, and Patrick Maruska (all ECE '13) presenting their software system Pitch on ECE Day.

From left to right: Nick Lippis, Brad Berk, Robins Patel, and Patrick Maruska (all ECE '13) presenting their software system, Pitch, on ECE Day

San Francisco, CA – After advancing to the US Finals in the Imagine Cup, Boston University students, Brad Berk, Nick Lippis, Patrick Maruska, and Robins Patel (all ECE ’13), won the SkyDrive Boost Award for their innovative software system.

The students make up the team, Pitch, and are aiming to make sharing files easier and more applicable to daily situations. Their product uses Windows 8 and a Windows Azure backend server in order to create a secure account that makes accessing any type of document manageable.

Team Pitch has been formulating this idea over the last year as part of their senior design project, a requirement for Electrical & Computer Engineering seniors. On May 6, the students presented their software system at ECE Day and were awarded with the Entrepreneurial Award.

The SkyDrive Boost Award
The SkyDrive Boost Award was given on May 13, 2013, at the U.S. Finals. Pitch was one of the ten teams that won $1,000. The team members will use the money to help launch their start-up. The award was given to United States finalists who utilized the SkyDrive API in a meaningful way into their projects. The SkyDrive API’s common tasks include viewing, editing, creating, and sharing photo albums.

About Imagine Cup
Since 2003, the Microsoft Imagine Cup has challenged students from more than 190 countries to submit ideas that solve the tough societal problems we face today. Each step of the way, students have the opportunity to make friends and win cash, grants, and prizes.

-Chelsea Hermond (SMG ’15)

Top Senior Design Projects Named at ECE Day ’13

May 20th, 2013 in Alumni, Awards, Courses, Events, Faculty, Graduate Students, News-CE, News-EP, News-ISS, Recognition, Research, Research-CE, Research-EP, Research-ISS, Senior Design, Students, Undergraduate Programs, Undergraduate Student Opportunities, Undergraduate Students, Video

Winners of the P. T. Hsu Memorial Award for Outstanding Senior Design Project, Team 17 - Calibration Device for Microarray Slides, demonstrate their project to judge, Bradley Rufleth (ECE '04). Pictured from left are Jyotsna Singh (ECE '13), Allison Marn (ECE '13), Ryan Lagoy (ECE '13), Rufleth, and Sasha Gazman (ECE '13).

Winners of the P. T. Hsu Memorial Award for Outstanding Senior Design Project, Team 17 - Calibration Device for Microarray Slides, demonstrate their project to judge, Bradley Rufleth (ECE '04). Pictured from left are Jyotsna Singh (ECE '13), Allison Marn (ECE '13), Ryan Lagoy (ECE '13), Rufleth, and Sasha Gazman (ECE '13).

Recently in the Photonics Center, passersby were met with a curious sight on the ninth floor. In a small setup resembling a couple of grocery store shelves, a robot, aptly named ShopBot, was picking out items from a grocery list.

Designed by seniors Jeffrey Chang, John-Nicholas Furst, Ngozi Nwogwugwu, Gurwinder Singh, and Hei Po Yiu, the Grocery Shopping Robot was one of 17 senior design projects on display as part of Boston University’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering’s annual ECE Day.

“We wanted to come up with a cheap, automated way to find groceries in a store,” said Singh during their presentation. Their robot uses a pathfinding algorithm to take the shortest path possible and scans barcodes to find its items.

Singh was one of 74 students showing the results of two semesters of work to faculty, friends, parents, and guests on May 6. Additionally, three seniors opted to write an honors thesis and presented their posters during the event.

View photos from ECE Day ’13 presentations.
View photos from ECE Day ’13 awards and demonstrations.
View videos of the student presentations.

The projects, one of the last requirements for seniors before they earn their undergraduate degree, allow students to design a prototype, electronic device or software system. Teams work with real world customers that include BU professors and companies like Microsoft and Bell Labs – Alcatel-Lucent.

“This year’s senior design class has been one of the very best,” said Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE), the senior design advisor. “I have enjoyed working with such a talented and dedicated group.”

Chris Hall, a member of Team 3 - Choreographed LED Artwork, shows his team's project during ECE Day.

Chris Hall, a member of Team 3 - Choreographed LED Artwork, shows his team's project during ECE Day.

This year’s projects ranged from a deshredder, designed to test if shredding is secure with today’s computing techniques, to an application that would allow professors to more easily track how a student is performing using BU’s education software, Blackboard.

Six alumni who previously completed senior design projects, David Lancia (ECE ’02, MS ’04), Craig LaBoda (ECE ’11), David Mabius (ECE ’07, MS ’09), Mike Kasparian (ECE ’12), Aaron Ganick (ECE ’10), and Bradley Rufleth (ECE ’04), returned to their alma mater in the roles of judges.

Said Pisano: “The ECE Day judges told me that the job of selecting the winners was most difficult this year because of all of the excellent projects, and they wished we had more awards to give.”

After much deliberation, the judges awarded Calibration Device for Microarray Slides the top prize, the P. T. Hsu Memorial Award for Outstanding Senior Design Project. Sasha Gazman, Ryan Lagoy, Allison Marn, and Jyotsna Singh worked with Professor Selim Ünlü (ECE, BME) to develop a system for detecting target proteins, allergens, and diseases on microarray slides.

“Our system improves upon the accuracy of fluorescence based testing and is compact, portable, and user-friendly,” Singh said during her team’s presentation.

“Overall, we’re increasing the accuracy of diagnostics,” added Lagoy, who also was awarded the Michael F. Ruane Award for Excellence in Senior Capstone Design.

In a show of solidarity, the graduate students in Ünlü’s Optical Characterization and Nanophotonics Laboratory turned out to support the undergraduates during their team presentation.

The day centered around the seniors’ accomplishments, but two teachers were awarded as well. David Castañón, ECE professor and department chair, presented Ari Trachtenberg with the ECE Award for Excellence in Teaching and Molly Crane was named the GTF of the Year.

Other awards at this year’s ECE Day included:

Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award
Chris Hoffman

Senior Honors Thesis Award
Beat Wave Generation and Interactions with Space Plasmas at Gakona, Alaska: Lisa A. Rooker

Entrepreneurial Award
Pitch: Brad Berk, Nick Lippis, Patrick Maruska, and Robins Patel

Design Excellence Awards
Choreographed LED Artwork: Chris Davis, Mike Gurr, Chris Hall, Matt Lee, and Kevin Meyer

Automated DNA Assembly Platform for Bioengineering: Alejandro Pelaez Lechuga and Janoo Fernandes

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)