Santa Clara University

Dean Daniel pitt

Lessons from Senior Design

On May 5 our seniors once again dazzled all comers at the Senior Design Conference. At Santa Clara, we require all of our seniors to complete a senior design project, either singly or as part of a team, and at the annual Senior Design Conference they present their projects to a panel of judges comprising alumni and industry practitioners. This year we had ten sessions running in parallel the entire afternoon, and the judges, numbering more than 70, selected a best project for each session.

William Meissner, advised by Professor Steve Chiesa, designed a pumping station to bring fresh water from the Hetch Hetchy delivery system to a high-ground reservoir on the San Francisco Peninsula. Working with the consultant employed to come up with the final design for the local water authority, William satisfied some especially difficult constraints in his award-winning design.

Lance Takehara, advised by Professor Mark Aschheim, studied the use of bamboo as an alternative to steel rebar in reinforced concrete beams. Escalation in the price of steel due to demand in China has hit the developing world especially hard, so our ongoing collaboration with El Salvador motivated Lance to seek alternative materials that are available in developing countries. The result: bamboo-reinforced concrete. Is that not cool?

Ioi Lam, advised by Professor Rachel He, developed a signal synchronization system for one of the notorious Bay Area expressways. Ioi’s cost-effective design is expected to improve Level or Service along Lawrence Expressway and to reduce environmental impacts in downtown Santa Clara.

Sargon Benjamin, Thomas Van Buskirk, and Kevin Weiler, advised by Professor Chris Kitts, produced an Enterprise-class mission-control software suite for the NASA Genesat-1 spacecraft. Building on our long-term collaboration with NASA, Sargon, Tom, and Kevin developed a real-time modular software package incorporating advanced control-system mechanisms. When the satellite is launched, our students will actually control and monitor it using the system.

Chaitanya Agarwal, Tomas Bulka, and Pavel Pozdnyakov, advised by Professor Dan Lewis, developed a secure mobile fingerprint identification system. The system’s capabilities included image capture, remote database access, and rapid matching.

Michael Agarwal, Keenan Iwamura, Andrew Luchsinger, Kevin Sweeney, and Kevan Hollenback, advised by Professor Shoba Krishnan, developed an emergency vehicle alert system that the university will deploy.

Ryan Escobar, Jonathan Hsu, Ashley Kramer, and Yelena Pesic, advised by Professor Shoba Krishnan, collaborated on a field-programmable analog array-based RFID reader for use in inventory and security systems that are just now emerging.

Alfredo Cuaresma, Joseph de la Fuente, Kevin Kerns, Adam Moreland, and Vivek Reddy, advised by Professors Tim Hight and Chris Kitts, built a collaborative dual-robot object transportation system using the absolutely amazing Omnibot robots built here earlier. These three-wheeled robots can move in any direction while rotating in any direction. In this project, a slave robot tracked a master robot by monitoring a payload.

Piya Chindaphorn, Shao En Huang, Tran To, Brian Tully, and Sinsak Young, advised by Professor Chris Kitts, built an experimental testbed for collaborative multi-robot navigation. Developed as an open development platform on which others can implement various algorithms, the system is unique in that it is scalable without intrinsic limit and operates on robots of diverse manufacture.

Michael Downing, Brian Edlefsen, David Hague, Nicholas Lochridge, and Steven Perry, advised by Professors Jorge Gonzalez, Tim Healy, and Tim Hight, developed a solar water delivery system specifically designed for an isolated island community in El Salvador. One of six senior design project done in conjunction with El Salvador (and as an outgrowth of the conference on sustainable development for Central America that our faculty organized and conducted there last August), this project uses multiple solar panels and multiple pumps with an intelligent power-control system to vary the number of pumps running depending on the instantaneous amount of solar radiation. This summer some of the students will be going to El Salvador to install the system, which was funded by the United Nations.

What are the many lessons these students learn from the experience? Since these projects, which many students begin working on at the end of their junior year, enable the students to integrate what they have learned in many courses in a variety of disciplines. They certainly learn to work against a deadline, to get things to actually work, to share responsibility, and to communicate, not just with each other but with the judges and observers as well. I think the judges are most surprised by the professional presentations the students give, as some of the questions they ask the students are quite challenging. Some of them learn how long they can go without sleep. And all of them learn the satisfaction that comes from successfully completing a difficult task. Among the most awed spectators were this year’s juniors, but every year we tell them that next year they will do the same thing because they are capable of rising to the challenge when they are expected to. That might be the most valuable lesson of all.