By Liz Sheeley
Two undergraduate student teams have advanced to the final round of the Cornell Cup, a premier national competition for undergraduate engineering students.
“Both teams are exceptional with highly dedicated and motivated students,” says Associate Professor of the Practice Alan Pisano (ECE), who advises the teams and teaches the senior design seminars in which both teams first developed their projects.
The competition is a chance for undergraduate students to win up to $10,000 in prize money and showcase their ideas nationally.
The teams, RiverSonde and Vulcan IoT, are headed by student leaders Victor Ly (CE) and Pablo Ferreyra (EE), both seniors. The other members of RiverSonde are Anthony Byrne (EE), Adian Mikulic (EE), Nikunj Khetan (ME) and Andy Whitman (ME); and Nicholas Arnold, Soon Sung Hong, Rachel Manzelli and Isa Mustafa, all EE students, are the other members of the Vulcan IoT team.
“RiverSonde has two mechanical engineers on the team and demonstrates the value of interdisciplinary teamwork in the College,” says Pisano. “Vulcan is a great example of the value of big data and machine learning to solving important problems. Both projects have significant societal value and highlight the focus of the College in developing the Societal Engineer.”
RiverSonde, the team led by Ly, is developing a low-profile underwater sensor suite that enables inexpensive remote collection of water quality data from rivers and streams. The students chose this project because rivers and streams are significantly understudied compared with other bodies of water.
“We’ve designed RiverSonde to be hydroelectrically powered by a river’s natural current, making it deployable in low-sunlight areas, and mesh-networking-ready, meaning a multiple-sonde network can be deployed to take remote measurements even in areas without cellular coverage,” says Ly. By implementing sensors and electronics that are typically only found in $3,000-plus laboratory probes while still keeping RiverSonde’s base cost under $500, we hope to give budget-constrained research and regulatory agencies a powerful new tool to help preserve our rivers for generations to come.”
“It really is such an amazing opportunity to do great engineering and to have our work shared with the broader academic and research community,” says Ly.
The other team, Vulcan IoT, led by Ferreyra, has developed a cheap, low-power consumption internet-of-things device that monitors environmental factors, such as humidity, temperature and soil dryness, that contribute to wildfire development, and uses algorithms to predict wildfire occurrence. The Vulcan IoT integrates these outside variables with machine learning algorithms, trained on 50 years of fire-inducing weather patterns, analyzes the data via Amazon Web Services and assesses the danger of the current weather conditions in real time to notify responsible agencies so that they can contain the wildfires.
“Our mission is to prevent wildfires and the loss of more lives and homes,” says Ferreyra. “The growing threat that wildfires have posed to the state of California alone requires a new and innovative solution. Since the beginning of 2018, just under 1.5 million acres of land have been burned to the ground by record-breaking wildfires. The current approach to taming wildfires is retrospective, but the Vulcan IoT is preemptive.”
“We are excited to share our technology and solution with the experts and mentors of Cornell Cup,” says Ferreyra. “We are continuing to further develop and iterate our product until the Cornell Cup competition deadline in May where Vulcan IoT will be deployment ready.”
“I’ve learned that product development is an iterative process and I often think of prototyping in the form of two stages: brainstorming and refining,” says Ly, reflecting back on the process to create RiverSonde. “Brainstorming means throwing your ideas down on paper or whiteboard, even if it’s the most inconceivably outlandish. Refining means picking these ideas, and tailoring it to meet your customer’s expectations. Engineering as a practice means venturing into the unknown, going through many twists and turns in order to arrive to our goal.”