- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) - Can police chest cameras turn on automatically during an arrest? Can Blue Tooth technology help the blind navigate through their day? Can a device worn by soldiers help doctors treat them for post-traumatic stress disorder when they get home? Can you play “Chopsticks” when no piano is in sight?

These were among the questions posed by University of Massachusetts Amherst engineering students, and their answers- in the form of senior capstone projects -were invariably “yes.”

Electrical, computer systems and mechanical engineering seniors presented more than 20 projects on April 24 at Marcus Hall on campus. For electrical engineering senior Fabio Dallorto, originally from Italy, the presentations mark the end of two semesters of constant work.

“Sleep schedule, what’s that?” said Dallorto, 29, who lives in Northampton. “My wife is not very happy. I haven’t spent much time at home.”

Hardware and software have to work seamlessly together to make a presentable project, which means long hours in the lab, Dallorto said. “Everything is crunch time, but it’s a great experience to prepare you for the job world. You have deadlines and you have to meet them.”

Dallorto teamed up with electrical engineering student Andrew Barraford and two other students to create their project, the Blast Impact Monitoring System.

Barraford, 31, originally from Sherborn and now living in Amherst, said their project records waves of pressure data from explosions and other events in the field for members of the military.

“That allows the soldier to upload it after an event to a web application we built where a researcher could log on later that is associated with that soldier and that device and kind of figure out what happened,” Barraford said.

The data would include blast intensity and what direction it came from to better assess how that soldier could be treated for traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Soldiers often experience the pressure waves, but do not have any physical ailments such as broken bones to give clues to medical responders about what happened.

“We’re trying to create a research tool for future care,” Barraford said.

Nearby, computer systems engineering students Krista Lohr and Divya Reddy presented their project creating a navigation system for blind and visually impaired people.

Using Blue Tooth for indoors and GPS technology for outdoor navigation, their project gives voice directions to a destination input into the user’s smartphone.

“When you get to your destination it will give you an alert to say when you are there,” said Lohr, 21, of Pittsfield.

Each destination will be read to the user using the smartphone and they can select among them, according to Reddy, 21, from Plainsboro, New Jersey.

First a person can select the building they want to get to, and then select a specific room inside. Reddy said among the choices is the women’s room at Marcus Hall.

“Right now it is only set up for the engineering quad, but we want to make it for the entire campus so you can get anywhere,” Lohr said.

In designing their project, both students said the weather was a factor, sometimes disrupting the GPS signal.

The senior project is a highlight of the UMass experience, Reddy said.

“We had to start out from scratch doing everything ourselves and that was an awesome feeling,” Lohr said.

Notes from computer

In the adjoining room, the sound of a piano could be heard, but there was no instrument in sight. Instead, electrical engineers Anna Wildman and Kelly Kennedy stood by a projection of a couple of octaves of a keyboard on a table. By touching the projected keys, corresponding notes would come out of their computer.

Their project is the “Viano,” short for virtual piano, according to Wildman, 22, of Douglas.

“You can project a piano on any flat opaque surface and touch down and play it like a normal keyboard,” she said.

The device is portable and lightweight, meaning that composers using the device and bring it with them and compose away from their home studios, Wildman said.

It works because Wildman and her team project an infrared laser directly above the table surface. When the beam is broken, an infrared camera detects that and transmits the information to a nearby computer, which plays the note on Garage Band software.

“Kelly had the idea,” Wildman said. “We’ve seen QWERTY keyboards are laser projected … and we thought that would be pretty cool with music.”

Wildman said she majored in engineering to prove to herself she could do it. “Engineering is changing every day; there is always something new,” she said. “It was an individual push.”

Electrical engineer Jacquelyn Ingemi, 22, of North Brookfield and her group drew their project idea from their adviser. Inspired by protests of police action in Ferguson, Missouri, the students devised a police camera system triggered when an officer makes an arrest.

The officer using the device has a camera mounted on his chest and a memory unit on his belt. When the officer takes an item out of its holster- Ingemi’s group used handcuffs -the camera knows to save the recording.

“It prevents an officer from intentionally not activating the camera,” she said.

The officer can also begin the recording by touching a button, she added.

“The storage on it is capable of recording an eight-hour shift,” Ingemi said. “More and more frequently we’re hearing if there’s a crime where officer integrity comes into question, the first question is where’s the audio, where’s the video, where’s the concrete evidence.”

Ingemi said her group struggled to get the motion sensor attached to the handcuffs small enough and wireless. A way to expand on the project would be to create an antenna to transmit the data, she said.

“We had to use ‘off-the-shelf’ products basically, instead of designing our own,” Ingemi said.

Engineering is in Ingemi’s family. Her father is not an engineer, but both of his sisters and their husbands are engineers, she said. She wanted to follow that tradition.

Technology in kitchen

Kyle Despins said he and his group are trying to bring more technology into the kitchen. Despins, 21, of Franklin, New Hampshire, helped design the “Sudo Chef,” a play on the fact that the device is a fake (pseudo) chef and on the computer command “sudo.”

A computer systems engineer, Despins said his group developed a tablet app to communicate with kitchen appliances.

“You search for recipes based on ingredients you have in your home and you say ‘Oh I can make this recipe or I cannot make this recipe,’?” he said. “Once you find a recipe you can make, it parses through the recipe and it sends signals to your appliances.”

The app would tell the oven to begin to preheat, and it would read off steps of the recipe. The user can then focus on chopping onions instead of having to remember what step comes next in the recipe.

“I thought the kitchen was really lagging behind in the technology department,” Despins said. “We all have some kind of computing device in our pockets, so let’s utilize that fact and just bring that to the kitchen to make it a little bit easier for beginners to cook something or even experts to help with the process.”

Dallorto, working on the Blast Impact Monitoring System, said groups had two semesters and $500 to complete their projects.

For him, the projects value is in combining classroom research and real world ingenuity to create something worthy of being presented at the end of the year.

Being able to finally present the project is scary, but also a big relief, Dallorto said.

“After all these months working, the senior project is done,” he said. “Wear your tie, be ready with your best smile and you go for it.”


Information from: Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Mass.), https://www.gazettenet.com

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