ECE 412 Encourages Creativity and Practical Design

April 5th, 2018

Headshot of Dr. Cindy HarnettEach semester for several years, the students taking Introduction to Embedded Systems, a course in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), are tasked with a creative project that integrates assembly language programming; parallel and serial data transfer; polling, interrupts, and servicing of interrupts; software and hardware timing; analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion. Cross listed with Computer Engineering and Computer Science (CECS), the course features a mixture of CECS and ECE students, working in tandem on projects limited only by a limited budget and their own imagination.

An introduction to embedded systems or small computers that blur lines between a computer and a micro-controller, taught by ECE professor Dr. Cindy Harnett during the Fall and Spring, with Dr. Adrian Lauf from CECS teaching during the summer, with help throughout ever semester by CECS lecturer Professor Eugene Rockey. Harnett not only teaches the course, but ensures that the students have access to the technologies necessary to the course, working to keep student costs down, while instilling pragmatic engineering strategies.

Projects have included a variety of designs incorporating cheap materials like cardboard and electronics, sometimes salvaged and repurposed from previous projects. Designs have included skittles sorters, temperature control boxes, LED installations, and last semester, a sorting hat inspired by the Harry Potter series.

“Sometimes you’ll get a student who thinks they aren’t very smart, but they’ll build an amazing product," Harnett said. "We’re big on team projects. You will always have a new experience. It’s like the workplace. You have to negotiate workloads.”

Charles McGraw, a junior in ECE minoring in computer science, was part of the team that built the Harry Potter themed sorting hat. The course and project gave him insight and practice in aiding in design implementation, sensor properties, voltage sources, voltage dividers, micro-controllers, diodes, data analysis, device integration, C/C++ Programming, schematics, lighting, and collaboration.

“The students have their own momentum. This one they want to get to the projects," said Harnett. "We show them some of the old projects. And they already know what they want to do. It’s nice to get the chance to teach this one. It’s not my research speciality, which is micro-nano sensors. It makes me think about what people are going to put the micro-nano components too.”

McGraw was inspired by an in-class lecture by Harnett followed by examples from previous courses. He became interested in color sorting sensors, which provides a digital return of data in the form of red, green, and blue (RGB), and clear light sensing values. Working with classmates Shyam Patel, and Jeremy Legg, McGraw and company Integrated their color sensors and a little pop culture interest into the design for their final project.

“The color sensor was going to need something to initialize it into reading data which is where the IR sensor came into play," McGraw said. "The IR sensor is used to tell if someone is wearing the hat or not and a piezo buzzer is placed into the circuit to play a short Harry Potter tune from the movie, which then activates the color sensor to read data. Once the color sensor has collected enough data it sends the information to our "sorting hat" and displays the sorted house on the LCD screen on the hat.”