A virtual keyboard that allows people to type anywhere. Thermal batteries and wind generators that save energy. A wheelchair for the elderly that can move in several directions.
These were just a few of the eye-catching projects on display at the 2013 Summer Design Expo at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute.
The biannual event – held at the end of the summer and fall semesters – is a showcase for innovative senior projects, a key part of the JI’s “Capstone Design” initiative.
The bold initiative replaces the traditional individual thesis common in most engineering schools in China. Instead of a thesis, JI seniors in Mechanical Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering must form groups that work together on one project, supervised by a team of instructors. They write a group report and individual reports in English. And they take part in the English oral defense.
At the latest Expo on Aug. 7, there were 20 Capstone Design projects covering a variety of areas: smart energy, manufacturing, electric vehicles, network communication and medical equipment. Sixty percent of the projects were sponsored by corporate giants such as Covidien, Siemens, Intel, GE, Dover and HP.
“The Expo is well organized and very informative. I am pleasantly surprised by the wealth of creativity and talent showcased at the Expo. Bravo!” a Covidien representative said.
A guest from Intel added, “Very impressive projects! I am so glad to see so many creative ideas, and I am really impressed by these young people’s passion and diligence.”
One popular project was the “Auto-pilot Control System for Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” – a light, inexpensive and durable aircraft that can be used to survey terrain and conduct search-and-rescue missions.
Other practical inventions included the “Omni-Directional Wheelchair for the Elderly” and a handcart to help carrying heavy luggage up the stairs. To save and reuse energy, there were the “Solar Water Distiller,” “Thermal battery,” “Portable Generator” and “Recycled Wind Generator” projects.
One GE-sponsored project, “Low–Scaling Home RO System,” aimed to extend the life span of a water filtration system. Another project backed by Siemens, “Innovative Actuator System for Gas Turbine,” was designed to achieve accurate and fast control of the Inlet Gas Vane (IGV) of a Siemens gas turbine.
Also on display at the event, which attracted large group of local media – were 40 projects by freshmen taking the Introduction to Engineering course. An additional 33 projects were created by students taking classes about mechanical engineering, business management, entrepreneurship and other subjects.
Introduction to Engineering is the JI’s flagship course for freshmen. It introduces students to the professional skills required for engineers and provides them with an overview of engineering.
An important component of the course is the real-world engineering project, introduced from the University of Michigan. JI freshmen learn to solve problems in daily life by applying their knowledge. They are required to design and complete the projects in three months.
The course evaluation includes written reports as well as oral presentations. In early August, the students have to turn in 60-page summary reports, an excellent challenge to their writing skills. Many students comment that they have learned a great deal during the project process. They realize the importance of teamwork and the stringent requirements to be good engineers.
The diversity and creativity of the 40 freshman projects was amazing. Visitors were fascinated by inventions such as the “Virtual Reality Bicycle Game” that lets people play a video game while exercising. An “Alarm Earplug” could become a necessity for people enduring noisy dorm life. A “Virtual Keyboard” allows people to have a keyboard-projector available anywhere by connecting to an electronic device.
One junior student said he would present his Capstone Design next summer and was at the Expo to get some ideas. He thinks that the critical factors of success are good team members and an interesting topic. A mother said that her son is a senior at University of Michigan now and looks forward to coming back next summer to do his Capstone Design and oral defense.