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February 1997



Mechatronics course
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.

A design 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.



The Bradley Department of Electrical Engineering
Virginia Tech

Last Updated, May 5, 1997
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