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

Research Printer
Several students have worked on setting up a system for testing filament-type 3d printing components, such as the new extruder designs. This system is built from a surplus 2D industrial ink jet head test system. It has very accurate linear motors, a granite base, and a full enclosure with air filtering. We now need some system integration, testing, and process development to actually start characterizing new extruder components. Suitable for one ME with an interest in system engineering or process development.

Bioengineering Projects

Bioreactor Improvements
We have a functioning stand-alone bioreactor we designed and built which keeps cell culture samples growing under proper environmental conditions. We have some new ideas for adding an additional feature, providing regular mechanical stress to the cell matrices for better growth. Development and testing of this new approach is a good project for one or two ME's or an ME and a BioE team.
Servo Pinch Valve
A pinch valve squeezes a silicone tube to shut off flow of a fluid. Since the valve never makes contact with the fluid medium, it is easy to maintain sterility. Typical pinch valves use an electromagnetic solenoid to press a plunger against the tube. These are heavy, consume a lot of power, are expensive, and burn out frequently. Another approach would be to use a tiny RC servo motor to press a lever against the tube. This is a small, well-focused project, but presents interesting mechanical design and packaging opportunities, as well as a little bit of Arduino programming.
Polymer Tumbler
The polymer solutions used in bioprinting need careful, long-term motion to ensure uniform mixing of viscous solutions of multiple ingredients with no air bubble formation. We have assembled a variety of crude "tumblers" for providing this mixing action for batches of 15mL vials. One final, polished design needs to be implemented, with attention to form, fit, and function. Multiple prototypes will be built and tested. Good project for an ME who cares about the look and operation of products.
Inline Stepper Syringe Pump
In biomaterial production, syringe pumps are very important. We have built a variety of them. A new application needs a very slim, in-line type of pump, with a profile only slightly larger diameter than the 10mL syringe, approximately doubling the length of the syringe itself. The pump will incorporate a small stepper motor with an integral nut, driving a leadscrew in and out. The fluids pumped from the syringe are quite viscous. Good project for one or two ME's with an interest in biomedical applications.

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.
Stepper Motor Derailleur
Bicycle gear shifting mechanisms have been essentially unchanged for nearly a century. Electronic controls and inexpensive stepper motors provide an opportunity to create a new type of bicycle drive train that has more reliable shifting and reduced maintenance problems. A stepper motor with lead-screw shaft and internal nut, connected to either an existing derailleur or a new design would be the focus of this project. One implementation of this was done in 2012, but there is room for improvement and other approaches. Good project for one ME.
Better Bicycle Lighting
Several manufacturers are now selling very bright LED lights (up to 900 lumens!), and these are available in a variety of flashlights and a few very expensive bicycle headlights. The markup from the components to a basic system is phenomenal. In addition, the commercially available bike lighting does not take a system approach of providing front, rear, and side lighting from one battery pack and one switch. In addition, there really needs to be an easy switchover from one battery pack to a second pack. This is essentially a mechanical project, as the electronics are pretty much drop-in modules. The mechanical components to be designed include: This project would involve research on high-power LED's and optical components, CAD/CAM, rapid prototyping, and CNC machining. Good potential for side business if you develop a good system.
Additional accessories for the Xtracycle system
The Xtracycle is a frame extension to convert an ordinary bike into a cargo-hauling bike. It provides an extremely versatile system for carrying heavy or bulky loads by bicycle. There are some additional accessories that would be helpful. One is a cover that could keep the rider (and passenger) drier when riding in the rain. Another would be a means of preventing theft of loads when the bike is parked. Other accessories could be conceived. While each of these is technically simple, economic and manufacturing analysis needs to accompany the technical design and analysis. Good project for an entrepreunurially minded ME.

Computer Vision Projects

Robot Vision and Navigation
Our new Rhex robot chassis includes a Microsoft Kinect 3D-vision module. Open-source software needs to be adapted to provide navigation and obstacle avoidance for the Rhex robot. See robot projects below for more information.
3-D Digitizer
A fascinating research paper at Columbia University shows how a camera and a cylindrical mirror can be used to digitize a complete 3D view of an object from a single photograph. We would like to implement this technique to create surface descriptions of small objects for reconstruction in Pro/E and FeatureCAM. This would be an ideal project for an ME student with strong programming skills and interest. Implementation could be done in Scilab/Matlab or C.
Meter Reading Camera
Reducing utility usage (water, electricity, gas) requires users to have a real-time view of consumption. Once-per-month bills do not give sufficient information to control usage or identify the highest consumption activities or appliances. Meters with electronic output are expensive to purchase and install. Inexpensive webcams connected to a PC, with proper image processing functions, could provide real-time tracking of utility usage. Good project for one EE, CpE, or ME.
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.
Audience Counting
Organizers of events need to know how many people are in attendance at an event. Standing in a room and counting the people present is both difficult and unreliable. The Walla Walla University Church attempts to count the number of people present each week at the church service and would like an easier, more accurate way of doing this. One proposal is to mount a small camera at the center of the ceiling and use a machine vision algorithm to count heads at a fixed time each week. Development and testing of this algorithm would make a good senior project for a CpE or EE interested in computer vision.

Robotics Projects

Deaf Blind Communication Hand
Deaf-blind people naturally have a difficult time communicating with the rest of the population, or with computers. The most common method is for the deaf-blind individual to place his or her hands over the hand of the sighted person who signs words using something like American sign language. This is called "tactile signing". A device similar to a "bionic" prosthetic hand, but mounted on a stand, could be programmed to perform text-to-tactile-signing for communicating with the deafblind. This would be a large project, which would be best worked on by a team including both mechanically and software inclined engineering students.
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.
Mecanum Wheel Paranoid Robot
We have a set of Mechanum wheels, motors, batteries, and sensors for building a little robot. The robots goal is simply to avoid getting caught. It will sit still until someone approaches it, and then moves in the best direction to avoid the person and any obstacles. The Mecanum wheels permit motion in any direction without any steering mechanism. The complete robot needs to fit into a carrying case on hand. Fun, straightforward project for an EE or CpE and an ME. The ME designs the chassis/body, and the EE/CpE writes the software. Can also be done by one ME with some C programming skills or an EE with some mechanical skills.
New Rhex software/navigation
With our new Rhex robot chassis and electronics we have the ability to use a Kinect 3D vision module and an Intel Atom D510 motherboard. This requires a new software architecture, with low-level motor control still provided by the FPGA board, but new higher-level motion, navigation, and communications provided by the PC motherboard running Linux with real-time extensions. Good project for a pair of CpE or EE's.
In-wheel Motor for Mobile Platforms
Walla Walla University has had a series of projects in the past to design a two-wheel balancing vehicle (the Segway is a newer implementation of this concept). We need a brushless "outrunner" motor designed to power this vehicle. The motor would be built into the wheel, eliminating gearboxes and their backlash problems. Good project for a fifth year EE or ME who enjoyed EMEC class.
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

New E-Lock Door Controller
The controllers for electronic locked doors in KRH and CSP are over 20 years old, and all the spare boards have been used up. We need a new design that is an easy upgrade for the existing boards. Goals are Power over Ethernet, low-cost, off-the-shelf main components, and compatibility with our existing back-end software. Good project for one or two EE or CpE's.
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 four programmable dynamometers of the 200 watt class for our new 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.
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.
Sea Turtle Data Logger
A researcher at LLU has requested a rugged data logger for collecting position and velocity information from sea turtles swimming in the ocean. Interesting project for one or two EE's. See Dr. Aamodt for more information.
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.
New Generation Dust Collection System
Hundreds of thousands of Americans use power saws and other woodworking machines at home. These machines produce fine dust particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs where they can cause cumulative damage to lung tissue. One study found levels of particles in a good home woodworking shop to be 12,000 times the maximum acceptable level of a commercial cabinet shop! Existing approaches to extracting dust from the machines relies on a big motor spinning a big impeller to pull air through duct work or hoses from each machine into a stack of filters or a cyclone dust separator. These systems are very expensive if they are effective at removing the small particles from the air stream. A new approach is needed, and I have some ideas I would like investigated.
Inexpensive Dust Particle Measurement
The appalling state of home workshop air quality will inevitably lead to legal or legislative action. There is going to be a huge need for a simple, inexpensive method of monitoring fine particulate levels. It needs to distinguish between the 0.5-10 micron particles that are especially harmful and the larger dust particles that are easily visible. The project can be divided into two parts, researching sensing methods, and building a prototype system. Good project for a couple of EE's or an EE and a Physics or Bioengineering student.
Systematic Residential Heating/Cooling
The typical home has a number of independent HVAC systems that sometimes work against each other. These are air heating and cooling, water heating, food refrigeration, and food freezing. A system design that could combine these heat sources and sinks would greatly improve efficiency. This project would include system design for a typical residential house and thermodynamic analysis. Construction of the system would be beyond the scope of the project. An ME student interested in environmental issues and HVAC might enjoy this project.
Improved Stimulus for Acoustic Refraction and Reflection Seismometry
The current source of acoustical energy for the seismic refraction/reflection system is a five pound sledge hammer swung by an energetic civil engineer. A metal plate on the ground helps couple the kinetic energy of the hammer into the ground. This is a very crude system, and the efficiency of energy transfer is very poor. An improved system that couples an acoustic impulse into the ground with good efficiency and repeatability would be a tremendous enhancement to the system. Possible energy sources are hand-cranked spring mechanisms (like crossbow), CO2 cartridges, paint ball compressed air tanks, propane cylinder, or powder-actuated-tool (stud gun) cartridges. Good ME project.
Field Data Collection System
Several types of civil engineering instruments for collecting information about soil characteristics need to have the data merged with position information from a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver for the creation of specialized maps. These instruments put out data in several forms, digital or analog. A general purpose data collection computer system needs to be assembled that will collect the field data and GPS data, and store and display this data during field surveys. The hardware used will be commercially available, but there will be interesting custom software required to interface to the field instruments and provide a simple user interface. Interfacing to a smart phone, such as an Android or iPhone would be an excellent approach. Good CpE project.
Humidity-based Bathroom Fan Controller
Residential bathroom fans are usually controlled by a simple timer. A user sets the timer for a certain number of minutes before or after taking a shower. Rarely a motion sensor will be used to run the fan, or the fan is simply hard-wired to the bathroom light. A smarter alternative would be to use a humidity sensor to detect elevated levels of moisture, especially when wall surfaces are cold enough to cause condensation. High levels of moisture would cause the fan to run until the humidity level drops below acceptable limits. Many new low-cost humidity sensors are becoming available, making this a feasable project. The goal would be a modular controller that can fit in a single-gang electrical box in place of a timer. Good self-contained project for one EE.
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. See Prof. Yaw for 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.
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.

  • 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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