Engineering Senior Project Ideas for Walla Walla University Students

Please see Ralph Stirling in CSP262 if you are interested in any of these senior projects. A written application will need to be submitted to be accepted for one of these projects. Most of these projects have funding for materials for prototypes. Descriptions in green boxes are highest priority.

Additive Manufacturing Projects

Bioengineering Projects

Bioreactor Improvements
The prototype perfusion bioreactor we built several years ago is ready for a clean new design, building on what has been learned so far. The new bioreactor will use an off-the-shelf data acquisition unit for monitoring and control. We will also use off-the-shelf peristaltic pumps. A corporate sponsor is eager to work with us on better sensors. This would be a good project for an EE, CpE, and BioE team.

Automation Projects

Fine Art Photography System
A local graphics artist has a very sophisticated studio for photographing art pieces and making prints. He would like to enhance his process by funding the development of an automated system for stepping an artwork in two dimensions while photographing small portions, to be reassembled in Photoshop. This would permit very high resolution images with optimum lighting and minimal distortion. Excellent project for an ME/EE team, or for ME's with software interests.
Computer-controlled Conduit Bender
Bending thin-wall electrical conduit has always been a trial-and-error art for electricians. It can take considerable skill to make conduit runs quickly with minimal scrap. Large, heavy, expensive hydraulic tubing benders exist in fabrication shops. A lightweight, portable, computer controlled pneumatic bender would greatly increase the productivity of electricians. The machine would need to be able to feed, rotate, bend, and cut a length of 1/2" or 3/4" EMT conduit. Bends would be in the 0 - 100 degree range, with standard radius. Ambitious project for a joint ME/EE team.

Bicycle Projects

Bicycle Test Stand
Bicycle drivetrain improvements need a consistent method of testing. Test stands exist for strength and fatigue testing of bicycles, but not for drivetrain performance testing. This project would result in an adjustable frame and system for testing the drivetrain of a variety of bicycle types. The rider would be simulated with pneumatic cylinders, and a roller dynamometer would provide simulated load. The drive and load would be controlled by a PLC. Good project for two ME's.
Direct Drive Generator for Serial Hybrid Bicycle
A serial hybrid bicycle drivetrain consists of a generator coupled to the cranks, a battery, and an electric motor driving one or two wheels. Nobody has designed an optimized direct drive generator for such an application. The generator needs to produce around 200W peak power, at a speed of about 75RPM. It needs to fit into the space available around a bicycle crank, although frame modifications will be allowed for this project. Weight should be minimized. Good project for an EE with a strong mechanical bent, or an ME with a strong interest in EMEC. This generator would be similar in design to small direct drive wind turbine generators, which operate at similar speeds.
Tadpole-style Recumbent Trike for Cargo Hauling
Inspiration for this project is the Cargo Monster cargo extension for recumbent trikes. It is rather expensive, though, and you have to get an even more expensive trike to go with it. I would like to build a trike along the lines of AtomicZombie Warrior Trike but with a CargoMonster style extension built-in. Caleb Kimbrell's senior project (trike with fairing) would also be useful for reference.
Cargo Bicycle for 3rd World
Approximately one billion people in the world lack access to good transportation, and spend much of their day walking to carry loads for basic living necessities. City dwellers in this group may spend one third of their daily income on public transportation. The bicycle has been proven over the last century to be a very efficient mode of transportation. What is needed are improvements to the basic bicycle to make it better suited to carrying loads (food, water, passengers) for both families and entreupreneurs earning income from transporting goods. is spearheading one such effort. We can participate both in designing and analyzing bicycle frame and component designs, and in identifying production and maintenance processes that can be used in specific developing world locations. A group of ME's could work on different aspects of the mechanical and manufacturing problem. An EE could work on a side project of low-cost LED lighting for the worldbike.

Computer Vision Projects

Medical Imaging
Loma Linda University Department of Clinical Radiology has summer internships and senior project ideas that they will fund. If you are an EE or CpE interested in the medical field, this is an excellent opportunity. You can read more about this here.

Robotics Projects

Low Cost 3-DOF Manipulator
A small, low cost, 3 degree of freedom manipulator would be very useful for several applications we have been working on in manufacturing and biomaterials. Joint actuator modules are already available, so this project is primarily link design and control configuration. Control by LinuxCNC and/or ROS. Good project for one ME and one CpE or EE.
Compact Robot Joint
Modular robot manipulators need a very compact motor/gearbox assembly to keep robot dimensions to a minimum while maximizing performance. A brushless gimbal motor with a hollow shaft, combined with a cycloidal gearbox and an optical or magnetic angle encoder, would make an ideal package. Selecting the right components, designing the cycloidal gearing, and designing a versatile housing, would make a great project for a couple of ME's interested in machine design and robotics.
Small Motor Dynamometer
We are engaging in a number of projects using small, custom-designed electric motors. It is imperative that we have an easy-to-use, accurate method of measuring the performance of these motors. We need to know torque-speed characteristics and input/output power. The primary tool for this is the dynamometer. One good example of a small dynamometer for reference is in the paper: Towards a Dynamic Actuator Model for a Hexapod Robot This is an excellent project for an ME or a mechanically-minded EE.

Embedded System Projects

Talking Digital Calipers
Digital calipers, micrometers, and other measuring devices can be purchased with a data output usually called "SPC". Blind users, or users who need to keep their eyes on something other than the display would greatly benefit from a small device which plugs in to the SPC port and will speak the measurement on demand or whenever a new set of data is transmitted from the SPC port. This would be a cool little project for a CpE or EE, and may have real market potential.
Pin Grid 3-D Visualization Device
A blind engineer also needs a means to visualize 3-D images by feel. An approach to this might be a computer-controlled pin art array, along the lines of these toys or this clock. We have some ideas for how to economically push the pins out from computer pixel maps. This would be a good team project for an ME and an EE or CpE.

Other Projects

Labvolt Dynamometer
We need three programmable dynamometers of the 200 watt class for our Labvolt electric machine lab system. These would consist of a DC motor with a speed/torque controller and data acquisition for providing a mechanical load to machines in the Labvolt system. Good project for one or two EE's or ME's.
Truck/Car Powered Cement Mixer
The tremendous damage suffered by developing countries during earthquakes can be largely attributed to poor quality construction practices. One of the main problems is mixing concrete with shovels on the ground. This ubiquitous practice results in widely varying cement/aggregate ratios, excessive water, and inclusion of dirt. Modern mixer trucks and batch plants are entirely unsuited to developing contries like Haiti because of both capital cost and lack of good roads. This project would be to design a very low-cost continuous mixer that uses an ordinary pickup truck or rear-wheel drive car for power. The vehicle would have its rear end elevated and set on jack stands, one wheel removed, and the mixer bolted on to the wheel lugs. The mixer would incorporate calibrated volume material hoppers and dispense into buckets or wheelbarrows. See Cart Away's Haiti Project for an example of a more complex, higher production version of this. See this article for an example of using a car wheel to power a stationary machine. Good project for a team of ME's.
Tunable Antenna
Dr.Frohne would like to have a shortwave antenna whose length is remotely adjustable, between 16 and 36 feet. Good project for an ME or a mechanically inclined EE. See his description for more details.

Plumbing/Irrigation Projects

Motorizing Ball Valves
Small brass ball valves are an inexpensive, rugged, low-maintenance plumbing component. They are used for shutoff valves in every residence. It would be useful to be able to control them from a home automation system or sprinkler controller. Motorized ball valves are available from a number of suppliers, but they are generally expensive, and must be purchased as a unit. What is needed is a simple, low-cost motor and gearbox that can be attached to an existing ball valve, without disturbing the plumbing connection. Only valves from 1/2" to 1-1/2" NPT would be addressed in this project. This is a good, well-defined project for one ME, with definite market potential. There will be an opportunity to make some injection molds and have plastic parts molded.
Wireless Valve Control
Simple wireless standards and devices have become recently available, permitting the design of low cost, low power wireless devices that operate in a "mesh" topology, relaying data from device to device until it gets back to the destination. One such standard is Zigbee. A good project for a couple of EE's is to design a low-cost wireless controller for irrigation valves (such as those described above) using Zigbee or similar protocol.
Wireless water leak detection
Simple low-cost moisture detectors placed under plumbing fittings would be very valuable in quickly detecting leaking fixtures. The user could be alerted and main water valve automatically shut off.
Plant Moisture Measurement
Determining how long to water plants has always been a lot of guesswork. Some efforts have been made to measure soil moisture to guess if plants have enough water, but there is a need for low-cost sensors that measure moisture content of plant leaves directly. Such a sensor could use the Zigbee nodes described above to transmit moisture data to the controlling host. Another good EE project.

Civil/Structural Engineering Projects

For more information on the ideas below, please see Prof. Louie Yaw.

Submarine Model Instrumentation
Professor Yaw has a plastic scale model of a typhoon class Soviet submarine. The model is currently made so that bars may be threaded into the top of the model at two points along its length. Someone needs to design a "load" frame that will hold the model in the open channel flow machine in the fluids lab. The frame should be set up also so that the force acting on the submarine may be carefully measured. Then the drag coefficient of the submarine model may be computed and compared to the actual submarine drag coefficient by the principles of similitude. If the frame and instrumentation is designed appropriately other similar objects could be submerged or partially submerged in the open channel flow machine and drag coefficients could be determined. Likely students for this project would be mechanical or electrical.
  • Standard code design for shipping containers as buildings in WW county.
  • A footbridge or small vehicle bridge over a river.
  • A pedestrian bridge over College Avenue.
  • A fictitious or real office building.
  • A residential dwelling (requires engineering by use of timber design principles, not code conventional construction).
  • Design a new Eiffel tower or Space Needle.
  • Design a (true) gantry crane for a shipyard (not an overhead crane like in the Structures Lab). See an example crane.

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