blends EE/ME issues
Floyd Wood (EE), left, and Brian Leeson (ME)
examine their "Lego" prototype for a fuzzy navigation controller
that they hope to use on an autonomous vehicle.
team developing an intelligent windshield defogger needed to
integrate a microprocessor controller and solve thermodynamic equations.
A team working to optimize the intake
manifold for the engine of a hybrid vehicle developed a control system that
would change the length of the manifold according to the engine load.
Another team produced an intelligent
pill dispenser that automatically sounds an alarm and dispenses the appropriate
pills at the right time.
These efforts - a blend of mechanical, electrical and computer engineering
issues - were typical of team projects developed last semester by students
in Virginia Tech's first interdisciplinary "Mechatronics" course.
Taught by a faculty team of electrical and mechanical engineers, the
course explored a variety of issues in electromechanical systems, including
sensors, actuators, interfaces, AC/DC converters, and microcontrollers.
"We felt it was appropriate to introduce a senior-level course to
help students appreciate the state of technology today," said Will Saunders
(ME), the lead faculty member for the course. "With more mechanical
systems being controlled electronically, the blending of mechanical and
electronic components introduces new issues and introduces new levels of
decision making, he said"
"In my robotics work, I often need electrical engineers who have
experience in mechanical issues," said John
Bay, the EE member of the faculty team. "And much of the ME research
requires some electronics experience," he added. "We decided the
best approach to the course was as a multidisciplinary team, with each faculty
member providing expertise from his area." Charles
Reinholtz (ME) is the third faculty member.
Throughout the course, the students worked on three-member teams consisting
of two ME students and one EE. "Once the students from the different
disciplines started working together, practical issues popped up that they
had never considered," Bay said. "As they resolved these issues,
they taught each other concepts and practices from their own discipline."
Students also discovered that employers interviewing on campus last semester
were particularly interested in their experience.