- Associated Press - Saturday, December 24, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - If you don’t understand exactly what Indiana University’s new intelligent systems engineering major is all about, you’re not alone.

“At this point, a lot of us aren’t sure,” said Anthony Tugman, a freshman from Schererville, Indiana.

He and his peers have just completed their first semester in a program that didn’t exist a year ago. It might not be easy for them to explain what they’re learning right now, but after graduation, they’ll help develop the kinds of gadgets you’ve seen in science fiction movies.

Until this year, IU was the only member of the Association of American Universities, a nonprofit organization of 62 leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada, without an engineering program.

That point was noted in a study examining Indiana’s economic opportunities. A few years ago, the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, a business group aimed at strengthening central Indiana’s economy, commissioned a study called “Strategic Plans for Economic and Community Prosperity in Southwest Central Indiana.” Among its recommendations was that IU expand its offerings in applied sciences, including engineering, in order to meet the future economic needs of southwest-central Indiana.

Understanding there was already a well-established engineering program at Purdue University, IU leaders decided to offer something a little different. Building on IU’s reputation as a leader in informatics and computer science, they created the intelligent systems engineering program.

Students in this program won’t be learning how to build the types of bridges most Americans drive over today; they’ll be learning how to build bridges with sensors that can tell people when a bridge is about to fail.

“We have a greater emphasis on the internet of things,” said Geoffrey Fox, chairman of the intelligent systems engineering department, which is part of IU’s School of Informatics and Computing.

The internet of things refers to everyday objects that have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. Most people know these items as “smart” devices.

Students who just finished Katie Siek’s introduction to innovation and design class got their first taste of what it takes to create these types of devices. Their class project required developing a product that combined computing, electronics and visualization. It had to have some type of input and output, and the students had to laser cut or 3-D print something.

Once they had a prototype, they had to beta test it on at least six people.

The students were divided into teams of four and given 10 weeks to complete the assignment. The finished products were presented at a symposium last week in the Indiana Memorial Union.

“I was incredibly impressed for first-year engineers,” Siek said.

Tugman’s group came up with an alarm mat for people who have trouble getting up in the morning. The device starts with 12 loud beeps to wake the person up, followed by a sequence of beeps that require the user to stand on the corresponding numbered square of the mat to turn it off. Two quick beeps means the person should stand on the No. 2 square. Four quick beeps means they should hop on the No. 4 square.

Beta testing the alarm mat helped Tugman’s group decide to make the user step on four different squares before the alarm turns off.

“Six was too long and people got annoyed,” he said. “Two was too short and people got back in bed.”

Aidan Whelan’s group came up with the EcoClaw, which won the best undergraduate project award at the symposium. The device encourages people to pick up trash by tracking how many things it picks up with eco points. An accelerometer and an infrared sensor are used to determine whether someone actually picked something up or if they’re just opening and closing the device.

Whelan said he was attracted to the intelligent systems engineering program because he’s always been interested in solving problems. He’s not sure exactly what he wants to do after graduation, just that he wants to make things that make people’s lives better.

“I’ve got a rough idea, but that’s the great thing about this field,” he said. “It’s changing so much, and will change so much by the time I graduate, it’s hard to tell.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/2h9pj08

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Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com


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