ECE Student Innovators Gather to Showcase Inventions at Senior Design Project Day

AMHERST, Mass. – On Friday, May 5, visitors to the college of engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will have a chance to examine a variety of inventions, ranging from virtual rumble strips that warn drivers if they drift between lanes, to a trendy device called a Buddy Bug that serves as an electronic matchmaker. The work is from the latest crop of student designers from the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) department at UMass Amherst.

The inventors will display their creations as part of the electrical and computer engineering department’s 16th annual Senior Design Project Day, which takes place on Friday, May 5 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Gunness Engineering Student Center in Marcus Hall.

Design Day is a public review of more than 20 senior projects. Students display their inventions, explain them to visitors and demonstrate their functions.

“Design Day is not only the culmination of what ECE students learn at UMass Amherst,” says T. Baird Soules, the department’s undergraduate program director, “But also the demonstration of broader skills, such as presentation, teamwork and budgeting.”

One senior project that could find a widespread youth market is the Buddy Bug, an invention perfected by the team of Jeremy Vight, Nicholas Nunns, Matt Brennan and Brian Roberts “to fill the gap” between mobile phones and dating services. The Buddy Bug is a small, electronic, matchmaking tool that allows its users to exchange personal interests wirelessly, similar to the popular “Facebook.” The device allows users to find other Buddy Bug users in a bar, class, lounge or any other place where people gather. It’s a sort of electronic way of asking, “What’s your sign?”

A more serious-minded device is the virtual rumble strips created by Matt Auby, Steve Leblanc, Joachim Weyl and Mariah Winkler. Physical rumble strips along the sides of highways act as warning systems that prevent single-vehicle accidents caused by cars drifting off the road, but currently there is no system in place to warn people if their autos drift between lanes. The ECE team has created the prototype for an electronic system by which an automobile’s computer can warn the driver if the vehicle veers toward an adjacent lane. Multiple sensors can “read” special road markings separating the lanes, thereby enabling the driver to tell exactly where the car is at all times.

Another useful device is the brainchild of Matt McLinden, Sharon Schreiber, Dominic Sung and Mark Babetski. Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) has become an increasing problem for microwave remote sensing related to earth science and air traffic control applications, particularly in heavily populated areas. This team has built a receiver that will buffer RFI, find more power in each frequency and amplify the signal. The project, which resulted from McLinden’s student internship at NASA last year, is funded by the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

Inventions such as these serve as capstone projects for seniors in the ECE. “The design project is as close as we can get to duplicating what these students will be doing in their professional lives,” says ECE Department Head Seshu Desu.

Other inventions that will be on display include an intelligent phone service selector, an electromagnetic levitator, an electronic camshaft and an automated shopping list.