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A Multidisciplinary Senior Design Project: Redsigned to Increase Interdisciplinary Interaction

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Technical Session

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.74.1 - 22.74.13



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Paper Authors


Steven G. Northrup Western New England College

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Steven G. Northrup is an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Western New England College in Springfield, MA. His research interests are: systems engineering and control systems in alternative energy power production, embedded control systems, humanoid and mobile robotics, and pedagogy of multidisciplinary teamwork. He has worked on alternative energy systems in Guatemala and the U.S. and worked in automotive electronics design for several years.

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An interdisciplinary team design experience has been conducted successfully for severalyears as part of the senior engineering laboratory effort at ______ University. Recentmodifications have been made to the project to increase the amount of interdisciplinaryinteraction during the project. For the past several years, students have designed,fabricated, and tested a solar-powered vehicle. During the current project,multidisciplinary student teams are designing, fabricating, and testing an electric vehicle.The new design requires mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering students towork together closely to design and package the electromechanical speed controls andsensing systems on the vehicle.A major project objective is introducing the students to the design process typicallyassociated with new product development. The approach is to have student teams developan electric vehicle prototype that is optimized for speed while transporting payloadsbetween two points up a sloped parking surface. The vehicle must also be capable ofcompleting a slalom course as quickly as possible. The effort requires multidisciplinaryteamwork wherein mechanical and electrical engineers must work together to developelectromechanical speed control and steering systems, and a suspension system tostabilize the vehicle. The multidisciplinary design effort requires the paralleldevelopment of a performance prediction algorithm, the vehicle itself, and electrical andcomputer systems to gather data to validate the performance prediction. Severalconstraints are specified for the design effort. The vehicle speed and steering has to beRC-controlled, the power for battery charging has to come from bio-diesel fuel and/orsolar energy, the vehicle components have to be machined and assembled at theuniversity, and the total budget has to be under $250. Mechanical, electrical andcomputer engineering students are combined into teams with five to seven members.Each team is required to: conduct a product design feasibility study; conduct designbrainstorming sessions; conduct conceptual design studies; design and fabricate a productprototype; develop a prototype prediction algorithm; design and fabricate on-boardcomputer to collect, store and analyze performance data; and to use collected prototypedata to analyze vehicle performance. The computer and electrical engineers are alsorequired to design and implement a hybrid bio-diesel/solar energy battery chargingsystem. Weekly meetings are conducted where each team gives a brief oral presentationdescribing both, the work status with respect to their program schedule, and the team-spending summary. The students enjoy the effort and learn a lot about real-world productdesign and development challenges including team dynamics. This paper describes thedetails of the design experience, discusses efforts that were found to be both successfuland unsuccessful, presents sample team prototype results, and discusses studentcomments and feedback.

Northrup, S. G. (2011, June), A Multidisciplinary Senior Design Project: Redsigned to Increase Interdisciplinary Interaction Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17356

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