Calit2-Sponsored Student Team Wins Engineering Design Course Award

By Maureen C. Curran

Anson Dan
Dan Curcio and Anson Hsu with Gizmo truck.

San Diego, CA, December 14, 2006 -- A Calit2 co-sponsored undergraduate student team who built a keyless lock-system using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology won the award for best project for the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department's fall Engineering Group Design course. Calit2 has a tradition of support for the team project-based course (ECE 191) and this quarter sponsored or co-sponsored five of the nine projects.

Elizabeth Wyrwich and Kevin Wyrwich were awarded the top prize following the final student presentations for the course, which were held last Friday, December 8. The brother and sister team worked with mentor Bill Hodgkiss, an associate director of the UCSD division of Calit2.

They created a keyless entry system using RFID tags, demonstrating that the technology can be used for wireless transfer of information through non-conductive materials, such as wooden doors. RFID technology offers similar identification and tracking capabilities to bar codes, but with the added flexibility of successful use at greater distances and in obstructed environments. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Scripps) co-sponsored the project.

"ECE 191 gives undergraduates hands-on experience working with a team on an open-ended project," says Hodgkiss, who is also a professor at Scripps and an adjunct professor in ECE. "It's an experience valuable to their futures, whether that is in academia or industry."

Alex Chan and Richard Edu
Alex Chan and Richard Edu present their project.

Kevin Wyrwich agrees: "The class gave each student a good feel for different areas of engineering. Working with partners and our mentors allowed us to experience a little bit about how projects might be done, giving us a familiarity that will be useful in the future."

Hodgkiss mentored another project this quarter, also co-sponsored by Calit2 and Scripps. The team of Alex Chan and Richard Edu investigated and tested the use of Bluetooth technology for the transmission of voice over short distances (3-10 m). They implemented a base station that enables a Bluetooth headset to be used with audio input/output devices. "We developed a hardware solution to talk on Skype wirelessly, which is beneficial in any office situation," notes Richard Edu.

"The best thing about the class is having a great mentor who helps us and guides us," says Alex Chan. "The degree of freedom in the class is also a great change of pace from regular classes," he continues, "it's more work, but more rewarding."

While Hodgkiss is a long-time year-round participant in ECE 191, this was the first time for Calit2 researcher Javier Rodriguez Molina, who jumped in with both feet, also mentoring two teams. He loved it: "The students were awesome. This was definitely a learning experience for both the students and myself."

"The best part of mentoring was the 'engineering team work' -- the students worked great together and with me," recounts Rodriguez Molina. "We discussed many ideas, approaches, and brainstormed different solutions to different problems. The lab was 'alive' -- you could feel the excitement in the people working in the lab, it was really stimulating."

Kristi Tsukida

See related story on the Jacobs School of Engineering website: Group Engineering Projects, Learning and Fun -- ECE 191

The two projects were based on Calit2's Gizmo project. Gizmo is an adaptable and reliable research platform, built on a remote-controlled toy truck, which makes it mobile. It can be easily modified to deploy different technologies. As the lead Gizmo gadgeteer, Rodriguez Molina is already working towards future projects for ECE students.

Gizmo remote-operated Bluetooth interface project (GROBI). Working with Rodriguez Molina and Calit2 project scientist Paul Blair, Eldridge Alcantara and Kristi Tsukida successfully developed and implemented a Bluetooth interface for Gizmo, enabling control of the truck via laptop and cell phone; webpage control has been enabled by other researchers. The Bluetooth modules used in the project were donated by a local company, A7 Engineering (Poway, CA).

"The GROBI project was especially rewarding for me," comments Eldridge Alcantara, "because I had the opportunity to apply some of the things I learned here in school, while developing some new skills at the same time."

Dan Curcio and Anson Hsu worked to enable autonomous Wi-Fi sniffing capabilities for GIZMO with mentors Rodriguez Molina and Calit2 principal development engineer Don Kimball. They developed the software to create signal strength surface plots, which was installed on the Gizmo truck. This enables Gizmo to record the signal strength of every wireless Wi-Fi network (SSID) present in the area each second as it drives around; the data is sent over the CalMesh wireless network and stored remotely.

"Choosing Calit2 as a sponsor for our design project was definitely a good choice," says Anson Hsu, "everyone we talked to didn't hesitate to offer assistance or suggestions to the development of the GIZMO truck."

Rajesh Hegde with students
(l-r) Calit2 researcher Rajesh Hegde with students Joseph Kurniawan, Ernan (Ian) Liu and Jia-Dong Yang.

Joseph Kurniawan, Ernan (Ian) Liu and Jia-Dong Yang worked on "Designing An Enhanced Situational Awareness System using GPS and Environmental Audio" with Rajesh Hegde, a Calit2 postdoctoral researcher in ECE and Calit2 academic participant and ECE professor Bhaskar Rao.

"The sharing of context is inherent in human beings," Hegde explains, "but that's not true with devices. Therefore we are trying to create a group of devices that are networked that know the situation and share the information." The overall goal is to build a situationally aware system from a collection of context aware systems.

This quarter, Joseph, Ian and Jia-Dong created networked devices with enhanced situational awareness in real time by using GPS location-information, speech and ambient audio. They also developed a display and exchange of this context information within a network.

"Adding speech and environmental audio to GPS-location information gives it added value and is a pretty new direction," states Calit2's Hegde. "The proof of concept has been shown. I am pleased with these guys."

ECE 191 is an upper division course which is part of the design requirement for undergraduates and is typically taken by seniors. ECE professors Pankaj K. Das and Clark Guest are the instructors.

ECE 191 projects are funded and/or mentored by campus organizations such as Calit2 and Scripps, corporate affiliates of the Jacobs School of Engineering, and government organizations such as SPAWAR. Corporate affiliates Booz Allen Hamilton, Raytheon and SONY participated this quarter.

Related Links
ECE 191 Fall 2006
Gizmo Project

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