Engineering students rev up the innovation in capstone projects

Engineering students rev up the innovation in capstone projects

Nick Paris of the The Missing Lynx/SAE Mini Baja team (purple shirt) explains mechanical features of the off-road vehicle's engine to other students at the Engineering Senior Design Competition.

It's no wonder that engineering students get pumped about their capstone projects. Not only do their creations tie together everything they've learned as undergraduates, but, in many cases, the students have a product that may bring them notoriety and revenue in the marketplace.

The usual stunning array of innovation, which typifies the kind of hands-on learning students receive at CU Denver, was on display May 16 as the Engineering Senior Design Competition showcased 28 projects in the North Classroom atrium. College of Engineering and Applied Science students spend a year working on projects for their Senior Design course, a capstone to their undergraduate studies. A panel of industry judges inspect each project and ask questions of each team of students. The judges select the best overall project ($1,000) and a top project from each discipline ($250).

Many of this year's projects focused on dynamic transportation design (FasTracks-RTD Colfax Station, Swift Tram-DIA, Twin Tunnel Reclamation), health care and healthy living (MapMyFitness, Therapeutic Response Exoskeleton, CU Denver Prosthesis, Remote Emergency Biometric System, Track Team/Con-Track) and energy conservation (Micro-Hydro Generator, E-Home Automation, Power Patroller and Archetype, a hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle). Other projects ranged from way out there (Magnetic Rail Spacecraft Liftoff Accelerator) to whimsical (re-mindful, a mobile app that delivers a daily reminder to smile).

The mechanical engineering team that built The Missing Lynx—SAE Mini Baja was looking forward to racing its off-road vehicle at a Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) event in Kansas in late May. "The idea is you're supposed to design it as if a company has come up and said, 'We want you to design an off-road vehicle for us,'" said team member Matt Reed. "They put us through a technical inspection to make sure everything is looking good and then they put us through four dynamic events—acceleration, sled pull, maneuverability/traction and braking."

The design competition judges liked what they saw of the Mini Baja, awarding it best design in the Mechanical Engineering Department. "The nice thing about this big of a project is it lets us tie everything together at once and really settle into the things we've learned over the past several years," Reed said.

Another project in the mechanical engineering group—Track Team/Con-Track—was inspired by a disabled woman who is a friend of one of the team members. The team developed a battery-powered wheelchair that travels over rocks, gravel, snow and other outdoor obstacles. The team members built 90 percent of the parts that are on the all-terrain wheelchair.

"We have suspension on ours," said Nathan James. "Most of the other (all-terrain wheelchairs) just have a straight drive, so if it gets bumpy, it's really bumpy."

Reed said the capstone project was the best educational experience he had in his undergraduate years. "Actually applying the knowledge we've learned does way more than just taking a test."

A team in the Electrical Engineering Department created E-Home Automation, which allows a user to wirelessly connect and control home systems—such as light switches, dishwashers and home security systems—via the E-Home website or mobile phone application.

Some of the team members already had experience working as electricians, said Josh Hartley. "We thought it would be interesting to integrate what we know with something we've learned (in class)," he said. "There's nothing (on the market) where the home automation is really yours and you can control it and run it. With other systems you have to call a third party to come in and install it for you. This is so easy to install that anyone can do it. It's plug and play."

Here are this year's winners: