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Mechanical engineering includes all aspects of design, development, control, and manufacture of mechanical systems and energy conversion systems.

Mechanical engineering is essential to the proper design and manufacture of nearly every physical product in our modern world. As such, mechanical engineers are a fundamental resource for most industries, and they work in interdisciplinary environments. Mechanical engineers must have the ability to see broad perspectives across disciplines and industries and yet solve very local and specialized problems.

The undergraduate curricu­lum addresses the education and training of mechanical engineering students and concentrates on two technical areas:

  1. Design and analysis of thermofluid systems for effective use of energy; and
  2. Design, analysis, and control of mechanical systems including the study of materials used in engineering.

Educational efforts are chan­neled to expand the skills of prospective engineers not only in understanding funda­mentals but also in developing competence in analyzing engineering systems.

Senior Design Projects

Advisor: Christopher Kitts

RSL Rover - ATV that has been converted to drive-by-wire and drive-by-wireless by a current capstone team.  The new opportunity is to build on this by adding in new autonomous capabilities for navigation.

Building a new small satellite and/or its subsystems, to include a pointing control subsystems - The development of small satellite subsystems (and possibly our own complete small satellite), to include work on a electromagnetic torque and/or a reaction wheel system for pointing control as well as a thermal control system. This project may also include design of new satellite structure (possibly a 3D printed structure), etc.

Marine robotics autopilots - Autopilot and advanced automation for boats and/or underwater robots. To begin, we may be developing a boat autopilot for a commercial partner. In addition, we will probably also be extending the automated naavigation capabilities of the current MARV boat so that it can do things beyond simply mowing the lawn, which it can do based on the current team's work. These advanced capabilities include things like planning its own routes, avoiding obstacles, detecting problems and signaling a remote operator, etc. Finally, currently do depth and heading control, but we're interested in adding more advanced capabilities such as underwater waypoint navigation, path control, altitude control, etc.

Automated control of bioprinters – This will significantly extend the capability of a bioprinter being developed by a commercial partner. We will be rebuilding all of the standard motion control portions of such a printer, controlling the flow of the biological material out of nozzle, controlling automated camera operation as a form of instrumentation control.

Advanced UAV controllers – The development of novel outdoor UAV controllers for real field missions.

Large antenna pointing control system – The development of improved antenna pointing systems (2 DOF trajectory control) to support satellite communications, with partners from NASA. This may evolve into a small production run commercial product.

Multi-robot control – Control of multi-robot clusters, to include clusters of quadcopters, groups of land rovers, fleets of robotic kayaks, and/or schools of underwater robots. Note that the underwater robots testbed is a simulator for a satellite formation flying project that we hope to conduct on the International Space Station. The multi-robot work would normally be conduected with partners from NOAA, MBARI and NASA.

Advisor: Tim Hight

Rowing system for one-handed sculling - A system is desired to allow disabled rowers to enjoy the sport of sculling.

Advisor: Rob Golterman

The Poverty Crusher – Continue the design of a superior, cost effective, human-powered rock crusher to help improve the lives of the women in Nepal who crush rocks by hammer for a subsistence living. May include travel to Birendranagar, Nepal


Advisor: Drazen Fabris

ASME Human Powered Vehicle Challenge

UAVs - 1 ongoing project on UAVs for medical deliveries - new platform design is an option.  Another project on using UAVs for specific field missions, potentially with new navigation techniques and multiple UAVs flying together.  We currently are developing new capabilities to provide real-world serves for the SCU Facilities Department, for a local winery, etc.

“ASME's international Human Powered Vehicle Challenge (HPVC) provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate the application of sound engineering design principles in the development of sustainable and practical transportation alternatives.In the HPVC, students work in teams to design and build efficient, highly engineered vehicles for everyday use—from commuting to work, to carrying goods to market.”

Advisor: Christopher Kitts

RSL Rover - ATV that has been converted to drive-by-wire and drive-by-wireless by a current capstone team.  The new opportunity is to build on this by adding in new autonomous capabilities for navigation.

NASA Mission Control - we currently control 4 orbiting NASA satellites and more are manifested for launch within the next year.  Project opportunities include tracking systems, expanding the capabilities of our mobile control station, performing satellite analysis, etc.  We are also developing our own small satellite subsystems for an advanced flight demonstration of autonomous mission control.  Another opportunity involves control systems development for a SPHERES International Space Station experiment.  All three opportunities would involve working with graduate students.

Marine robotics - The first opportunity involves extending the capabilities of a new tethered underwater robot - potentially to include development of a peripheral (like a manipulator, sampler or coring system) or the ability to work autonomously with a group of underwater robots.  The second opportunity is the continued development of a deep sea biosphere instrument (that will most likely discover new forms of life and new compounds); this will operate at 6,000 m below sea level and will be dropped into the Earth's crust another 1,000 m.  Another possible opportunity involves the development of an autonomous underwater vehicle and/or the development of a hybrid aerial/marine vehicle.

Automated weed removal – The use of automated systems with mechanical and software subsystems that will work together to make the weed removal process on a vineyard more efficient. This will hopefully reduce the need for manual labor and pesticides on top of improving production rates.

Advisor: Mohammad Ayoubi

Shaker Table Control System – Control system design and simulation with the goal of designing, building, implementing, and testing an active motion control system for an existing seismic shaker table.

Sunplanter - The design and construction of a demonstration, intelligent, tilt axis solar panel array, which also showcases some other amenities (lighting, speakers, etc.), and is portable, is desired. The intelligent control system would demonstrate single axis solar tracking as well as various preset modes (entertainment, rain cover, watch sunset, etc. ...) and manual rotation through a simple and robust programmable control system (Arduino platform).

Advisor: Tim Hight

Legacy Borehole - Design, fabricate and test a new automated borehole platform for assessing the chemical, hydrologic, and microbial conditions of the basaltic crust through the utilization of roughly 54 legacy boreholes worldwide.

Other Potential Continuation projects

The Poverty Crusher – Continue the design of a superior, cost effective, human-powered rock crusher to help improve the lives of the women in Nepal who crush rocks by hammer for a subsistence living. May include travel to Birendranagar, Nepal

AkaBot – system to create 3D printer filament from used water bottles for NGO in Uganda.

Solar Water Purification system – use concentrated solar thermal energy to boil and purify brackish water.

Small Wind Turbine – create a shrouded system for small wind turbines to increase power output

Head Injury Prevention – create wearable acceleration sensor to monitor concussion-like trauma for sports without helmets

Last Mile Vaccine Transport – further develop a mobile refrigeration system to hold temperature of vaccines within strict limits while delivering to remote villages

Musical for CP Patients – create a musical reward system in conjunction with CIMT therapy to help Cerebral Palsy patients.

Advisor: Robert Marks

 Omoverhi, which means “lucky baby” in a native Nigerian language, is a project aimed at developing a low-cost and off-grid incubator for premature infants in underdeveloped parts of the world. The 2012-2013 team has redesigned the incubator, focusing mainly on cost and materials accessibility issues; however, development of an off-grid power source and energy storage remains a challenge. Prior teams stored energy in the form of latent heat associated with the melting transformation in a parafin wax. However, when consuming this energy, the wax re-solidifies, producing a barrier to heat transport (no convection in solids) into the water used as the incubator’s heat source. Ideas to circumvent these issues have included geometrically constraining the wax so that many channels of water may flow by the wax.

Centrifuge for the Materials Lab - This project would be suitable for a group of seniors with expertise in the following areas: (1) dynamics/vibrations, (2) controls, possibly with the assistance of an ELEN, (3) continuum mechanics/mechanical design FEM, and (4) to a lesser extend fluid dynamics/sedimentation.

The idea is to construct something comparable to a commercially available centrifuge having capacity for ≈2 L of a liquid suspension and capable of reaching rotational speeds up to 15,000 rpm (25,000XG). The model I used in grad school only reached 6,000 rpm, and we actually only ran it at about 1,000 rpm, so if they were able to achieve 1,000 rpm, I would consider it a success.

Some individual components could be purchased, such as the centrifuge tubes and holders, but I would expect the rotating arms/shaft to be designed, machined, and assembled by the students. External housing and user interface would also need to be designed/manufactured by the students, although items such as individual display components could be purchased. Control system need not consist of more than a speed control and timer.

I could serve as the adviser to the team and would also serve as the primary customer for the project and more generally represent university faculty from the perspective(s) of laboratory research interests and/or instructional laboratory exercises. The unit shown above retails for about $4,400 (Thermo Scientific Sorvall ST16), so I anticipate students should be able to achieve a working product with about $5,000. A useable product may require two years, with the first year being primarily focused on design and analysis.

Recycling and Purification of Sn-Bi Alloys -This project would be suitable for a group of students interested in materials and manufacturing processes. Perhaps it would be best reserved for those interested in pursuing graduate work in materials and with a decent understanding of phase diagrams and phase separation in two-component systems.

The idea here is to develop a process that involves melting and re-solidifying Sn-Bi alloys to produce progressively purer stock of the elemental constituents. A key challenge will likely be separating the liquid from the solid without the entire alloy re-solidifying into a single ingot. The actual mechanical workings of the device(s) used to achieve this may be fairly rudimentary (this would not resemble a commercially available product), and I suspect any mechanical engineer could develop them; hence my emphasis on an understanding of alloy phase equilibria. I envision the final device achieving something similar to zone refining, although that process is typically reserved for materials that are already fairly pure.

Again, I could serve as the adviser and customer. The idea is motivated to minimize Sn and Bi consumption in one of the MECH 15 lab experiments. I think this would make an interesting project/device. Future iterations of the project might involve processing in an inert gas or vacuum environment to avoid oxidation of the metals. Furthermore, something akin to zone refining may be difficult to achieve since one would likely end up with a significant portion of the material being at the eutectic composition, which is difficult to phase separate. It may be preferred to preferentially oxidize one of the metals using a controlled pO2 environment. The oxide could then be separated and reduced in a low pO2 environment.

Rotary Evaporator for the Materials Lab - This is something that could be used in a process subsequent to centrifuging, and although commercially available models

(≈$12k) are more costly than the centrifuge, I believe this requires somewhat less specialization on the part of the students than Idea #1. Students interested in thermodynamics, heat transport, and fluid dynamics would be suitable for this project. Control systems including rotational speed (much lower speeds in this instance) and a separate heating unit (<100°C) for a water bath are necessary. The control system does not require a timer in this case, as a simple on off switch would suffice, and rotational speeds would be 100 rpm max (<50 rpm is very realistic).

The challenge here is the glassware. I’m not sure what capabilities we have for manufacturing such parts, so this one might be a no go, but I thought I’d include because it nicely compliments Idea #1. It may be possible to construct something with a suitable transparent plastic (needs to withstand 100°C). Not ideal, but would make for an interesting project if they got something to work.

 Advisor: Mohammad Ayoubi

An Autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAV) for Law Enforcement Officers - The objective of this project is to design, simulate, and implement a control algorithm which guide an existing UAV through some user-defined waypoints and stream live videos or take pictures for law enforcement officers. This is the continuation of this year Quad-rotor helicopter project.

Fuzzy-Logic Based Sprinkle System - The current commercial sprinkle systems work based on the system setting. They are open loop. i.e. they don't work based on any feedback. If the weather condition changes, a human should interfere and change the settings manually. The objective of this project is to measure the soil moisture and use online weather forecast, and some knowledge-based rules to make decision about the time and duration of watering of a residential typical-size landscape.

Designing, building, simulating, and implementing a control system interface for the existing shaker table. This shaker will be used for studying Earthquake effects on the structures in the Civil engineering department.

Designing, building, simulating, and implementing a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAV) for high school students. The final product should be inexpensive and easy to assemble and fly.

Advisors: Mohammad Ayoubi & Drazen Fabris

No name: Designing, building, simulating, and implementing a control system interface for a portable rotary inverted-pendulum [or other design, or multi-degree of freedom pendulum]. This educational module will be used in classroom to demonstrate the performance of different control systems.

Advisor: Chris Kitts

Deep Sea Characterization Instrument - Through a new NSF funded program with Univ of Alaska Fairbanks and a number of other industrial and academic partners, we will be developing a novel instrument to characterize chemical and microbial life in the basaltic crust of the Earth, hundreds to thousands of meters underwater. Elements of this project include truss design, control of an undersea winch, development of a distributed instrumentation system, an ROV-based maneuvering and data pass-through system, systems engineering, and operational development.

Small Spacecraft Development and Launch Preparation - Building upon the work of this year's small satellite project team, next year's team will integrate a specific payload into the vehicle, explore the use of advanced communications and mechanisms, and work with collaborators from NASA Ames in order to deliverable a functional satellite system.

 NASA Satellite Operations - For nearly a decade, SCU has provided mission control services for a series of NASA small satellites. During the upcoming year, 10 new satellites are planned to be launched, and all will be operated by SCU. Project opportunities exist for the development of new satellite tracking systems, software-defined radio systems, distributed command and telemetry processing software, and physics-based functional modeling and analysis tools.

  Marine robotic control systems - Students interested combining a design project with undergraduate-level research in control systems can join one of our marine robotic systems teams, all of which continue to design/extend existing robots, which include undersea robots, automated boats, and a fleet of robotic kayaks. These systems perform real-world missions, and they are being specifically used to demonstrate new control system architectures, such as controlling robots to move in formations and to collaboratively perform advanced applications.

We're interested in a low-cost network of marine drifters - little sampling systems that would float with the current and possibly dive periodically to do vertical samples of the water column.... with the individual drifters possibly interacting with each other. We may do this with a few KEEN university partners as well. Individual teams would work to implement their best solution but would also have to work together to determine inter-node communication protocols, etc. I would put up some small amount of money and a standard set of parts to give to each team. Functional demos would be required next April, and a mission using successful designs would be conducted in May or June.

Advisor: Terry Shoup

 ASME Human Powered Vehicle Challenge - “ASME's international Human Powered Vehicle Challenge (HPVC) provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate the application of sound engineering design principles in the development of sustainable and practical transportation alternatives.In the HPVC, students work in teams to design and build efficient, highly engineered vehicles for everyday use—from commuting to work, to carrying goods to market.”

Advisor/s: Monem Beitelmal (& Drazen Fabris)

Solar water purification - The Solar Water Purification System utilizes the thermal energy from the sun, as well as the generated electricity from a photovoltaic solar plate to purify brackish water into clean, drinkable water. This purpose of this project is to supply clean water using renewable energy. The major parts of the system involve a boiler, a solar collector, and a condenser. Prior research used EES to code the entire process of the overall system. This would allow us to change a single parameter, such as the flow rate of the HTF duratherm, and observe how that would affect the output of water in the condenser or perhaps the required heat to achieve a desired output. This project would be best for groups interested in heat transfer design and thermal modeling and construction of a system.


Undergraduate Internship