Engineering projects emulate professions

Robotic lawnmowers, moon buggies and autonomous sonar robots are just a few creations that can be seen at the Engineering Building during the senior projects demonstrations.

The demonstrations happen at the end of each semester and allow the project teams to show the progress they have made.

Teams consist of four to six members, and projects require 10 hours of work every week for one semester per person, said Kay Purcell, visiting instructor for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Kyle McLaren, a senior from Penfield studying electrical engineering, evaluates the performance of his team’s project, an autonomous sonar robot, Thursday during the senior engineering projects demonstrations at the Engineering Building. McLaren, vice chair for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers SIUC student chapter, is one of four team members who has worked since September 2011 on the robot. Tiffany Blanchette | Daily Egyptian

At this rate, a team of four seniors dedicates about 640 hours during the 16-week semester.

For the four seniors working on the autonomous sonar robot, 640 hours may be an underestimation.

In November, the team, composed of electrical engineer majors Brian Gurley and Kyle McLaren, computer engineering major Robbie Steffen and mechanical engineering major Jeff Dykstra, proposed a design for an energy collection robot that would rely on sonar sensors to navigate.

The project was proposed to a mock engineering company called Saluki Engineering Company, Gurley, a senior from Galatia, said.

He said the money for the project came from the client of the Saluki Engineering Company, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and some from their own pockets.

Purcell, along with two other overseeing instructors, act as the management of the Saluki Engineering Company, he said.

“To ensure the team is on track, we have regular progress meetings with the instructors, as well as completing a number of technical papers and reports,” Gurley said.

During demonstration, the team tested and calibrated the robot using a USB connection and computer to manipulate the coding.

McLaren, a senior from Penfield, said success sometimes comes from trial and error.

To function as an autonomous robot means to operate without any human or remote computer intervention, McLaren said.

By using Ping ultrasonic sensors, the robot is able to navigate by sending a ping signal out and capturing the returning signal that has bounced off an object and uses it to measure distance from obstacles or boundaries, Gurley said.

He said as for energy collection, the robot uses a solar cell, a wind turbine generator and two metal spring contacts on the front of the robot’s frame.

In hopes of competing in and winning the IEEE Region 5 Robotics Competition, the team began work on the project in September 2011.

Interest in creating the robot came from being member of the IEEE student chapter at SIUC because it includes mechanical, electrical and computer engineering, Gurley said.

He said senior projects provide the opportunity to practice at a project in its entirety.

“The senior projects in engineering give students the experience of working on a team to create something larger than any one of them could create alone,” Purcell said.

She said the completion of a project is great for a resume and a perfect talking point for an interview.

“We get an idea, do research, write a literature report and then write a detailed proposal outlining every aspect of the planned design, hours required and money required,” Gurley said. “It is similar to what we will face when working for a real company in the engineering field.”


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About Tiffany Blanchette

Senior at SIUC majoring in photojournalism and zoology. Can be easily reached at or 618-536-3311 ext. 254.

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