On Sunday, approximately 100 students gathered in the Innovative Technologies Complex to showcase their work in the Watson Capstone Projects, a class in which seniors majoring in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering work in interdisciplinary teams to find solutions to problems with real-world applications.
The showcase gives students an opportunity to present their work before graduating. Melissa Simonik, a second-year graduate student studying mechanical engineering and the organizer of the showcase event, said that she was inspired to introduce a showcase event to Binghamton University after she began her role as a teaching assistant (TA) for the Watson Capstone Project course. Looking back on her own undergraduate experience, she said the senior project was an important step in attaining a degree at a research university, and that it deserved to be celebrated.
“During my undergrad at Union College, our senior project was such a big deal,” Simonik said. “When I started as a TA for this class, I was surprised that we didn’t have anything like that. They’re really cool projects, so they deserve to be shown off. I think it will give students more motivation to work on them if they get to show them off.”
At the showcase, students displayed their projects through posters, slideshows and demonstrations. One team took over a portion of floor space and rode in a prototype of an eye-tracking wheelchair. Joshua Montague, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, was part of the team that built the wheelchair and said that it demonstrated the potential applications of eye-tracking software.
“The wheelchair was not working when we got it,” Montague said. “We had to go in and reverse engineer the existing system. Our mechanical engineer built a mount for the camera. Then, we had to build our own system, and then we had to talk to the people in computer science to get their eye-tracking system to talk to our system.”
Another team developed a transportation system called the Hyperloop, which consists of pods that hold people and travel in depressurized tubes. Because the tubes hold no air resistance, the pods, which weigh approximately 500 pounds each, can travel at speeds up to 700 miles per hour. According to Brian Parsons, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and the team’s project manager, the Hyperloop could become an advanced transportation solution for cities struggling with overburdened public transportation systems and traffic congestion.
“It’s meant to replace trains, cars and planes in heavily populated areas,” Parsons said. “The goal is to have the same convenience as a subway, but to allow people to live very far away and still get to work in minutes.”
The team has also been selected to participate in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition II in Hawthorne, California this summer, where teams from across the world will compete to build the fastest pod. Over 1,300 teams applied to be part of the competition, and BU’s Hyperloop team is one of only 24 teams selected to participate.
Two other teams will also be competing over the summer at separate Society of Automotive Engineers events in Illinois and Michigan, including a team that designed a mini Baja, or an off-road vehicle, and a team that created a fuel-efficient vehicle that can run approximately 1,000 miles on a single tank of gas using a fuel-injection kit.
Simonik said that she hopes that the event will interest other students in the capstone class, and perhaps attract aspiring engineers to the University.
“We get juniors out to network with the seniors and get them excited about the projects, and we try to get high school students to come as well,” Simonik said. “A lot of the local high schools have engineering classes, so we try to show them what BU has to offer.”