Gas station without pumps

2016 January 9

Student project ideas for freshman design seminar 2016

Filed under: freshman design seminar — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:06
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For the second assignment in the freshman design seminar for W 2016, I had students look on the web for ideas for projects they might want to do.  I had set up the theme as “thrift store science”: do-it-yourself lab equipment of quality suitable for middle school or high school labs (though not necessarily with the durability that school lab equipment usually needs), but students were not restricted to the theme.

I’ve collected here the ideas students submitted, in the order they were turned in. Only 9/13 of the class had them turned in on time—I worry about the other 4.  Two of them turned in theirs late (12 and 14 hours late), but the other two haven’t turned theirs in yet as this post is being published.

Perhaps I should make sure that the slow four pair up with each other for the projects, so that they don’t drag down the students who do their work on time.  I’m not a believer in pairing strong students with weak students, since that usually results in the strong student doing all the work (and hating group projects) and the weak student learning nothing other than how to shirk work—a life skill that they probably already have enough experience in.

There was a bit too heavy reliance this year on—although that site has a number of decent projects, the format restrictions of the site mean that a lot of the better projects never get submitted there, but appear on individual blogs, Arduino forums, or other specialized sites.  There is enough representation of these other sources that I don’t need to discuss search strategies in class for everyone, but those students who only looked at instructables probably need to improve their internet search skills.

I’ve added my own comments to a few of the ideas in green, otherwise the text is from the students.

Maroon comments were from students other than the one submitting the original project, due 2016 Jan 23.

Here is my list of project ideas:
– DIY heart beat sensor tutorial using an arduino board

Optical pulse monitors are a doable project for this course—several students did them last year, and they are a one-week lab in the Applied Electronics course. (This link does not work) This project I am extremely interested about. A pulse monitor is a project that will not be too time consuming, but will require hard work to complete. the cost of this project will not be too expensive as we would as arduino processor, which is not too expensive. I believe this project can help me learn about arduino more and could be an nice experience for me with sautering and programming. 

My second vote is for the hear beat monitor because of the skills it builds and the low cost of the project. The instructions seem to be fairly straightforward and also includes the arduino code. One question I have is if we can write the code ourselves or if it is at all possible to improve the code that is given. I don’t know if that is possible but just something i was hoping someone could clarify.

I think this would be a great project. It seems to be fairly simple yet it has components which would allow us to learn about several different concepts. Also the parts seem to be cheap which is perfect for a class project.

I think that this project is very popular with the class. It’s a great way to apply what we are learning. It covers a lot of things that we may see in the future. We do not have a lot of time but this project looks very possible. The design is already provided and it shouldn’t be too expensive to build. Given that only a few people in the class have some kind of previous experience or knowledge about electronics, it should not be too complicated for the others. The project is very interesting and can have various uses.

I actually have a heart rate monitor that is made for road/mountain biking and comes in the form of a strap that goes around the chest.  The hardest thing to do is actually pick up a signal from the pulse; sometimes mine even has trouble with this and its the same strap used in the pro peloton. Other than that I don’t think there is a whole lot of issues that would really take a lot of time to sort out. The timer would be relatively easy to program, once there is actually something to measure. Another decision to make is if the heart rate to be measured would be over a single rep or a specific amount of time. Very cool project though.

I think this would be a really enjoyable project to take part in. It provides a healthy balance between difficulty and feasibility, and I think it would definitely develop our engineering skills. I also agree that it would be within a very reasonable price range.

– DIY vacuum cleaner robot which roams around and vacs up everything in its path

This project looks a bit expensive ($60 with surplus parts, probably over $100 with new parts) and may require more shop tools than we have access to.

This project requires a lot of extra parts that would only be beneficial if the person is fully dedicated and willing to spend an extensive amount of money and time on it. It seems to be very interesting project, and something that would be doable over a longer period of time. It would be amazing if this project was done efficiently in the time given in this class.

– Automated DIY plantduino greenhouse with automated watering and temperature system

Only simple control of a plant watering system is actually included in this instructable, though temperature and light measurement are mentioned at the end (control of light and temperature is also mentioned, but with no discussion of how they are to be controlled—adding heat and light is fairly easy, but removing them is not).  A plant watering, heating, or lighting system is a doable project, though we can’t work with plumbing in the electronics lab.  

The mechanical construction in this design relied on building outside on the ground—we don’t have a protected space for such work, so the design would have to be modified to be portable.

Here is my list of potential projects:
– DIY design for an incubator using an arduino

Doable, and I have the styrofoam boxes needed to build this.  I’d recommend using a power resistor and a low-voltage, high-current power supply instead of a light bulb.  Not only is it safer, but a lot of cultures are sensitive to light.  Adding a small fan would help keep the temperatures more uniform throughout the box.  See the 10 posts I wrote on incubators as a possible project for the course (though WordPress insists on putting them in the order most-recent-first, which is backwards from the order they should be read in).

-DIY ultrasonic range finder similar to the ones marketed by parallax

This one is kind of cool.  I’ve used Ping))) and Maxbotix range finders, but not considered building my own.  The $1.25 transducers and a few bucks of analog parts would be enough (together with a microcontroller board).  Finding a data sheet for the Matsushita #0D24K2 transducer might be a bit tough, but several hobbyists have used them, so there may be enough data available (24.5kHz±0.5kHz, an unusual frequency for ultrasonic transducers).  But w can get the more common 40kHz TCT40-16R/T transducers for $1.25 a pair (or unsolder them from the 68¢ module, though that will leave tails too short for breadboarding).

This DIY ultrasonic range finder,, looks like a lot of good circuit building. I think this Range Finder should be designed to start running a second circuit that does something like flash an LED or play a song when someone is close to it.

I think this project would be perfectly doable. It also ties into the science lab equipment on a budget theme. It also can be put to many other applications once built. Perhaps a project extension could be designing this for a specific application, such as a car detection system? I would vote for this project just because of the perceived simplicity of it. The programming does not seem too intensive but I would like some help in finding out what the arduino coding actually means. Another advantage, besides the simplicity, would be that we could use it for another project if time was left at the end of the quarter.


List of possible projects:
-DIY pulse monitor, we can detect heart beats and be able to see it.

Optical pulse monitors are a doable project for this course—several students did them last year, and they are a one-week lab in the Applied Electronics course.

-Make your own activity tracker using an Arduino

This looks doable (other than making a case), and involves only programming and wiring, no electronics design.

-Make your own smart watch

This one seems to be mainly programming and a 3D-printed case also.

-DIY Livescribe, it’s still in progress but being able to create one for much cheaper would be really cool

A bit more challenging than the other projects, since converting accelerometer or accelerometer+gyroscope data into position data is not trivial.  Probably beyond the scope of a 2-unit course.

I had no idea what live scribe was until I saw this. I love this project. It looks very difficult however. I have no idea how complicated the programming would be to make a live scribe pen work. The hardware design would take a lot of time and may be expensive. 

This project does seem difficult. I think this would be a good attempt to actually create something instead of taking plans since this project isn’t exactly fleshed out. It would take a lot of thinking and design to get it to function properly. I’d like to attempt this one too.

Capacitance-Touch Arduino Keyboard

We can definitely do the capacitive touch sensing with the Teensy boards, as the chips are designed to have low-power capacitive touch sensor interfaces.  The Teensy boards also have real digital-to-analog conversion, so we can do better sound synthesis than just a square-wave buzzer (perhaps the Karplus-Strong plucked-string algorithm).

I think that this is a very possible project for the class. It looks fairly simple and wouldn’t require much spending. Given that we are on our 4th week and have not finished our first project, this one looks fairly simple to do. The materials are easy to find and seems to cover most of what we want to learn. Since the teensy boards are compatible with Arduino, that should’t be much of a problem. The instructables also already come with the code which may or not be a good thing depending on the situation, that is, it’s good to have it because of the time span but we may not necessarily learn how the code works unless we write it letter by letter. Other than that, it should be fun and doable for this class.

3D Touchless Tracking Interface

Another application of capacitive sensing—again this looks quite doable.

This seems like it’s a very interesting project to be working on, it seems likes it’s a cheap design and it can be very easily doable. I do have some question on what it’s applications would be but other than that I think it could be a very interesting project to try to do.

This one caught my eye immediately. I thought it would be difficult to manufacture but it seems to be very uncomplicated. The setup is very simple but the effect is profound. I would be very interested in this project.

9 DIY Basic Hardware Projects
(1) Power a non-usb powered gadget with a usb.
(2) Create battery powered usb charger.
(3) 3D-ize current hardware.
(4) Create a laser gun.
(8)Notebook picture frame. Moving picture frame.
None of these look much like design projects to me. They are consumer-product hacks for the most part.
Make your own wireless (pad) phone charger.
This looks like just “install premade boards”, with no design other than mechanical. has MANY arduino-related projects. On there are attached PDF data sheets and instructions.
Not a particularly useful pointer.  That’s like saying Wikipedia has lots of articles, or Google can be used to find things.
Arduino Nano: Infrared obstacle avoidance sensor with Visuino
Connecting an existing infrared proximity sensor to a microcontroller is pretty trivial.  Designing an infrared sensor might be a reasonable project, or coming up with a project that actually used the sensor for something useful.
Ive [sic] always wanted to try making a rage [sic] finder that used light rather than sound to collect data. The reasoning behind this is that light would give a much more accurate reading.  There wouldn’t be as much interface.  However I’m not sure if we could make something compact enough to be of any use. That may not be a concern for many but i [sic] want whatever we make have a pretty easy application to some other project.
I think that this comment goes with this project, though a range finder and a proximity sensor are very different devices. A time-of-flight range sensor is much easier with sound (at about 300m/s) than with light (at about 300 m/µs).
Arduino: Micro laser show with a CD lens mechanism. (Two dimensional laser show projector)
Mainly mechanical design, assuming that you can find a dead CD ROM or DVD drive to disassemble.
Arduino: How to control LED lights with a remote control.
This is a very straightforward project—perhaps a bit too simple for a 2-unit class.

Home Alarm System
Very simple light sensor.

This project seems to have all of the circuits and for the home security given which would lessen the originality of the project. Other than that the project is achievable. The project doesn’t seem to require much extra equipment which would be better than some of the other projects.

Water Level Detector

Very simple conductivity-based water sensor with logic gate to do OR.

Project Idea: Automated Greenhouse System (some of the parts, not all, will be automated)

Conductivity Probe(detects nutrients in soil)

The electronics and microcontroller program for a conductivity probe is a reasonable project for the class, but some thought would need to be given to the mechanical design of the probe itself.  This project is similar to, but slightly more ambitious than, the electrode lab in the Applied Electronics course.  The amount of water involved may be small enough that we could do the work (in secondary containment tubs) in the electronics lab.

LED Artificial Light Supply to Grow Plants
Although this particular instantiation is not very exciting, designing grow lights is a reasonable project.

This one is a little intensive but it comes in a kit “DIY Robot Arm”

A wooden version of the MeArm robot arm shown in the lifehacker post is available new for $40 on ebay, including 4 servo motors.  Building a kit is fun, and programming the arm would be educational, but the design would be limited to software, as the hardware has already been designed.

Intelligent lighting system for aquarium/terrarium
Controlling RGB lighting strips is a reasonable task, through we’d have to add a voltage regulator, since the Teensy boards run off 3.7V–5.5V, not up to 12V where the LED strips are designed to operate.  That makes the task just difficult enough to be interesting. 

A more  feasible project that caught my attention,  This would be much more simple but I would like to use this in a fish tank at home to experiment with plant Vs. algae growth. 

This seems like a very interesting project to take on. It seems like there are many components related to it and it would be quite interesting to see the different design that would come from this since there aren’t any provided in the guide. It could be used in many of schools and it seems simple and cheap enough to do. 

Simple automatic humidifier
The part this is based on (from Seeedstudio) is no longer available, but water atomizers are available from eBay for $7–$10, and hooking it up to a microcontroller and adding a humidity sensor would make this a reasonable project.

Digital thermometer (the title on the page is wrong)
A digital thermometer is the first assignment in the Applied Electronics class, so perhaps a bit too simple for this course.  But using it to make a digital thermostat (that is, adding control of a heater) would make it sufficiently challenging. I am very interested in this project. Although it seems a little simple, I believe it will be an exciting project especially with someone like who has had some experience with processors and programming. I have read some of the projects that the other classmates have posted and they seem a little too complicated and time consuming. I strongly believe this project will be great and fun. I have done some research and this project would not be too expensive, but would require hard work and commitment in order to be successful. 

This is a very interesting project, and could prove to be very rewarding. Not only is it very reasonable, but it also could prove to be an important device to build if we as students go on to build future projects that involve temperature sensors. Also, once again this project seems to fit into a very reasonable price range.

LED Cube
A decent construction and programming project, without much electronics design.

B—— also mentioned his interest in this project and I also have interest in this project. Since we are learning about LEDs, it could be a good idea to demonstrate to Kevin what we have learned in the quarter by involving LEDs in our final project. This project illuminates the three different colors in a RBG LED. We can adjust this project by making a LED cube to make the project a little more difficult. Again, I think this will still be a good final project.

(I’ve counted this as a comment on the RGB LED cube, though it is apparently an attempt to introduce a new project to the list.)

Arduino Thermometer
A digital thermometer is the first assignment in the Applied Electronics class, so perhaps a bit too simple for this course.  But using it to make a digital thermostat (that is, adding control of a heater) would make it sufficiently challenging. The packaging in a plastic container as a case is a handy trick.

LATE submissions:

Here are my project ideas
Stop watch:
Other than hooking up the display, this is purely a software project.
Again, mainly a software project, other than hooking up the keypad and display.
And my favorite one… pulse monitor:
This is the third listing for a pulse monitor.

The word clock
Looks ok, but there would be a lot of soldering to do if we don’t have a PC board for it. Also, the crystal oscillators on Teensy or Arduino boards are not really great for high-accuracy clocks—good enough for short runs of a few hours, but not good for keeping time for weeks at a time.

OK, but mainly hooking up already designed modules with already designed software.  The soil moisture sensor is simple enough for students to design, but the software would almost all have to be just copied.
How to build an air guitar with arduino
Looks doable, though perhaps a bit tricky to get everything working with the level of skills in the class.
I think this project is perfectly doable, however, there could be small changes to make our easier. The ping sensor could be taken out and left as a four tone project. Instead of an accelerometer as the pick, a laser could be used as a string, similar to a laser harp. For this, the guitar would need to be mounted on one piece of material.

Very late submissions (more than 36 hours):

Speaker Volume Controller
OK, but a little bit special-purpose for the guy who made it.

Water level detector
Water tank level detectors are a fairly simple standard project.  It would be more interesting if the design contained a solenoid valve to turn the water on and off, rather than just sending a text message.

Smart Fan
This project seems to be about mounting a fan on a servo motor, so that it can be aimed.

Photogate Sensor
A photogate is a useful device in physics labs, but most of the design work is mechanical.

Ultrasonic Distance Sensor (on arduino)
Hooking up an existing ultrasonic module is pretty easy—I’d want to see either an application (using the measured distance to control something) or designing  the module from the bare transducers (see above).


Submissions more than a week late:

This highly ambitious projects calls upon students who value hard-work, are highly motivated, and who desire to take their education to the next level. This project presents a perfect synergy between its electronic and mechanical features. The integrated control board, the various sensors, and the opportunity for circuitry design combines with the water container, piston pump, and hot water tank to allow us to develop our technical electronic skills and apply them in an exciting, hands-on manner. The mechanical portions consist of simply connecting our water reservoir to our hot-water tank via piston pump. The electronic portions, on the other hand, present a wide variety of integration with the circuit board to multiple sensors measuring water level in both the water reservoir and hot water tank, as well as LEDs that tell us when the water level is too low. We will also strengthen our basic coding knowledge by creating the code necessary to smoothly transition and operate the separate phases of this machine at the push of the button. The actual mechanism by which this project works is surprising simple. This piston pump draws water from the reservoir and places it inside the already filled hot water tank. This pushes the hot water at the top of the tank into a tube and nozzle leading to the coffee contents in the K-cup, which filters straight into the cup. This entire process, of course, is handled by electronics involved. This project will not be a walk in the park by any stretch, but it will prove immensely rewarding to those brave enough to take it on. Beyond truly creating this Keurig machine,  we will more importantly be forced to greatly broaden our electrical and engineering knowledge and develop the confidence needed to continue taking on ambitious projects of this nature and scale.
This is an extremely late addition to the project list, from a student who apparently did not read the homework instructions to comment on other students’ suggestions, rather than proposing yet more projects. It also would be very difficult to do in the lab space we have available (no water, very limited mechanical construction tools).

Hey I saw another cool project on facebook. What do you think of building a camera system/computer program that tells you the shortest moves to solve a rubix cube?

 I think that the programming is way beyond the scope of this course.

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