Design Day Winners Blend Efficiency and Entrepreneurship


Art imitated life at the University of Arizona’s 15th annual Engineering Design Day. The biggest winner among the projects on display was a drone designed to do what bees do best.

The semiautonomous aerial vehicle, which was featured in a video, even sounded like a swarm of bees flying over Medjool date palm trees at a nursery in Yuma, Arizona. The team of seniors that built it won the Raytheon Award for Best Overall Design.

“Existing drones used to propagate the trees drop pollen from nylon stockings, which is not very efficient,” said systems engineering senior Victor Cortez. “Our drone has an automated 45-gram pollen canister that drops a precise payload of pollen over each tree and can pollinate 12 trees in one flight.”

That could yield big savings in time and money for farmers, and even reduce injuries.

“Fewer workers will have to go up in these palm trees, which are very spiky,” said Sara Harders, a senior in agricultural and biosystems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, whose department sponsored the project. The team is one of several fine-tuning their prototypes for commercialization.

Such ingenuity — with an eye on the bottom line and a spirit of entrepreneurship — was in abundance at the College of Engineering’s annual Design Day extravaganza on Monday. More than 500 seniors presented collaborative projects hatched over nine months. Their designs addressed real-life problems posed mostly by external corporate sponsors but also by UA departments and colleges.

“This is really the essence of engineering,” said Jeff Goldberg, dean of the College of Engineering. “Working with faculty mentors and industry sponsors, our students are helping to solve real-life problems — just as they will be doing throughout their careers.”

Design Day gave many students a career boost, with job offers aplenty and industry-sponsored awards totaling more than $25,000.

Good Drones, Bad Drones

Another team won big for technology it developed to take down drones. The Anti-Drone Device project, sponsored by Raytheon, won the TRAX International Award for Best Implementation of Agile Methodology.

“Commercial drones aren’t usually used for espionage, but their video-recording capabilities can pose a threat to privacy,” said systems engineering major Shivani Patel. “There are military-grade solutions to prevent spying from drones, but in the commercial market, there isn’t a device that is autonomous, legal and safe for the everyday consumer to disable drones.”

Seniors in chemical and environmental engineering made a strong showing on Design Day. Many of their projects aimed to conserve water. One project for recycling dairy wastewater for Arizona-based Shamrock Foods won the first-place Bly Family Award for Innovation in Energy Production, Supply or Use. Another, for converting wastewater to drinking water, won the second-place innovation award from the Bly Family, along with the Arizona Technology Council Foundation Award for Best Engineering Analysis.

“Chemical engineering is the art of changing what’s made in the lab to produce a product that’s going to help hundreds of thousands of people,” said chemical engineering senior Erica Clevenger, whose team developed a more water-efficient technique for manufacturing the arthritis drug Enbrel.

Some projects were designed to help one person but ultimately could help many more.

The Unpowered Exoskeleton was built to make walking and exercising easier for UA undergraduate student Jeffrey Bristol, who has cerebral palsy. Initiated by Jeffrey’s mother, the project won the first-place Frank Broyles Engineering Ethics Award.

Grace Under Pressure

Sometimes, despite their best efforts, senior design teams encounter obstacles that prevent them from meeting goals for Design Day.

A team sponsored by Alicat Scientific spent nine months developing a trade-show display to demonstrate flow and pressure controller performance. The design called for two rotating rods supporting a scrolling whiteboard material, a single-acting spring-return air cylinder and a seismograph-like drawing system for an eye-catching display of the fast response and settling time of Alicat’s pressure regulating technology.

But things didn’t go as planned, and the team made an 11th-hour decision to revert to an earlier prototype using a paper spool.

“There was too much tension, and the motors stalled,” said Justine Saugen, a senior in electrical and computer engineering. “We were trying to fix the problem at 2 this morning, and the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Let’s go back to what we originally had.’ So now we have just a single spool of paper, and only one of our motors is pulling it. But it’s something that we can show people.”

Engineers of All Kinds

This year’s winning projects also reflected the cross-disciplinary emphasis of the UA’s Engineering Design Program, in which teams of seniors from different disciplines work on disparate problems from diverse industries.

For example, Microsoft’s Best System Software Design Award went to a project sponsored by GEOST to make it easier for amateur astronomers to transport a telescope to an open area and aim it at a particular part of the sky. Another project, sponsored by Ventana Medical Systems for improving tissue imaging, won the Thorlabs Photonics Is the Future Award.

Other winning projects offered solutions for preventing cars from crashing and spacecraft from burning up.

More than 130 professionals volunteered as Design Day judges this year. David Upchurch, recently retired from Universal Avionics after 34 years, has been on board as a Design Day judge for the past five years.

“I worked in sales and marketing, but I have an engineering degree,” Upchurch said. “A couple of my colleagues said, ‘It’s a lot of fun, you ought to try it.’ I did, and I fell in love with it. The best part is seeing how the students take a real-life problem and try to create their own solution.”

Nearly 115 professionals volunteered as technical mentors to Design Day teams, including Mike Szlemko from Raytheon.

“Year after year, UA Engineering seniors bring a fresh perspective in their approaches and ideas for helping us resolve engineering challenges,” Szlemko said.




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