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Drones and Satellites: Identifying Interdisciplinary Capstone Projects with Other Departments at Your Own University

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Engaging Faculty Across Disciplines, Colleges, and Institutions

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Paper Authors


Bruce E Dunne Grand Valley State University

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Bruce E. Dunne received the B.S.E.E. (with honors) and M.S. degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1985 and 1988, respectively, both in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He received the Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, in 2003. In the Fall of 2003, he joined the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI, where he is currently a Professor of Engineering. Prior to this appointment, he held several research and development positions in industry. From 1991 to 2002, he was a Staff Engineer with Tellabs, Naperville, IL. Additionally, in 1991, he was with AT&T Bell Telephone Laboratories, Naperville; from 1988 to 1991, he was with R. R. Donnelley & Sons, Lisle, IL; and from 1985 to 1986, he was with Zenith Electronics, Glenview, IL. His interests include adaptive filtering, speech enhancement, wireless and wireline communications, and engineering education. Dr. Dunne is a senior member of the IEEE and a member of Eta Kappa Nu and the ASEE.

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Paul Keenlance Grand Valley State University

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In our undergraduate program, students complete an interdisciplinary two-semester senior project capstone experience. The project is typically industry-sponsored, includes design and build phases, and results in a working prototype delivered to the sponsor. In recent years, enrollment in our program has dramatically increased, requiring a doubling of the number of senior projects (and project sponsors). Identifying viable projects, while maintaining our standards in terms of challenging yet feasible designs, has become significantly more difficult as a large number of new sponsors are needed. To that end, we have been looking beyond our traditional industry partners to other sources for project sponsorship. Fortunately, recent collaboration with the Natural Resources Management (NRM) Department (an offshoot of the Biology Department) at our own university has proven to be a fruitful source of excellent interdisciplinary projects. It turns out that wildlife management is an area ripe for new technological advances with numerous applications.

Many of the projects with the NRM group are based on the need to track and count populations of wildlife. In some projects, we assume that the wildlife is somehow tagged or collared while in other projects, we create the animal collar. For example, in one project, the animals (the American Marten) wear small collars with an RF transmitter that serves as a beacon. Traditionally, small aircraft with antennas mounted on the plane (or hand held) fly low in tight routes, scanning the ground. Instead, our students developed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drone that flies above the tree line and scans the surrounding area for a signal. This UAV employs a Software Defined Radio (SDR) system to directionally locate the animal while transmitting this information to the biologist on the ground. In another project, a student team developed an environmentally hardened animal collar that regularly takes and stores GPS location data over a long period of time, and uploads that information at pre-determined intervals to the researcher. Several additional versions of this collar are under development by other teams, including a version that uses the Iridium Satellite Constellation to remotely transmit animal GPS data directly to the researcher offsite. Other related projects currently under investigation include using passive Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) tags and a detector to monitor turtle movements and developing a monitoring network that relays status to researchers at a lodge. All of these projects include excellent engineering challenges for students in electrical, computer, mechanical and product engineering.

In this paper, we give a brief overview of our senior project model, and how these new projects fit. We then give some detail on the various project ideas and requirements, and how these projects challenge our student teams. Also, as is of course necessary with any development, we discuss methods and strategies for funding these project developments. Finally, we conclude with showcasing these systems in actual fieldwork, and discuss how they are benefiting the research of our NRM partners and sponsors.

Dunne, B. E., & Keenlance, P. (2018, June), Drones and Satellites: Identifying Interdisciplinary Capstone Projects with Other Departments at Your Own University Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30345

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