by Syd Coppersmith & Jacob Borgeson
The little thoughts that poke and prod you throughout the day can be an excellent starting point for a senior design project idea. Sometimes, it’s a way to answer an age-old question (project #1 below): “Did I remember to turn off the oven before I left the house this morning?”
Here are some project areas that are generally interesting: Stuff that moves (#3 and #7), spy stuff (#3), help for the handicapped (#6).
You can follow a hobby and look to the heavens (#5) or you can ponder a zen-like problem: If my garbage can could talk (#8), what would it say? And just like that, this week’s list has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
1. Create an Ethernet adapter device for common household appliances, allowing homeowners to turn on or off electronics, lights, and appliances from any Internet connection.
2. Create a high-performance, low-cost, portable, uncooled infrared detector that detects human body infrared radiation at a distance of ten meters.
3. Develop a system using ultra-sonic sensors to detect the presence of obstacles in vehicle blind spots and alert the vehicle operator to their presence.
4. Currently, battery technicians use a manual technique to test pre-production battery performance. Design a test box that can be connected to battery packs that can read voltage, loaded voltage, and continuity, as well as perform tests. This box should be able to adapt to different types of mating connectors and hook up to a PC to store data.
5. Develop a set of sensors that will attach to a Dobsonian telescope and read the telescope azimuth and elevation angles. Once calibrated, the sensors will be able to guide the user to any visible celestial object.
6. Develop a display to allow blind users to read documents from a computer via Braille text. The display could contain a row of Braille characters that would stimulate the fingertips with an electrical signal, allowing the text to be read just like normal Braille.
7. Design a cheap and reliable shaft position sensor for a submersible electric motor. This project can potentially be completed using all digital, all analog, or a mixture of both in the final design.
8. A talking garbage can with movable arms to entertain the user every time they open the can lid.
No matter what your project, you’re going to need a processor. Our MSP430 has two qualities that students the world over love in their hardware: Cheap & Easy.
As to cheap, how about $4.30. Is that cheap enough for you? For $4.30 you get a complete development kit with real-time complex debugging, a professional software development environment, 2 DIP-package MSP430 ultra-low power microcontrollers, and the cables and headers you need to hook them up to breadboards and your PC. There are hundreds of users online if you just search for “MSP430 Launchpad” and TI has hundreds of code examples, libraries, and application notes to help you get started as well. Also, try our new Grace tool. It’s like an interactive datasheet that can take days off your design time.
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