ECE 445 Project Ideas

These are just a few of many dozens of ideas, provided courtesy of the Power Area.  All of these are of interest and have excellent long-term potential.  A few have been attempted in the past but have ample room for improvement.  In nearly every case, there is an actual device needed, and a design effort that results in a fully functional unit would be a big bonus! Several categories are provided, in no particular order.

1.  Occupancy counter for building spaces
Energy requirements of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in large buildings can be decreased significantly if the HVAC effort can adapt to occupancy levels and needs. This project is to design, build, and demonstrate an occupancy counter suitable for offices or small meeting rooms. Requirements: the count must be exactly correct for up to 6 occupants, and correct within +/- one person for up to 12. The count should be updated 2 to 10 times per minute. Output data must be provided through a wireless connection (such as Wifi) to a web server.

2.  Interactive global groundbreaking device.
This project seeks to create a (small) robotic shovel that responds to commands from a web site and provides real-time views and data about its activity. The objective is to allow students, and alumni around the world, to help control this device during groundbreaking ceremonies for the new ECE building. A web interface also must be designed to allow users to schedule their actions, manage a queue, provide information on who is in control at any moment, etc. The idea is that as many as 1000 or more ECE alumni could queue up commands, which would be executed in a FIFO sequence once ceremonies begin and the master “go” command is activated. The team must design and demonstrate hardware to operate and manipulate the design, design the web interface, and have the system in working order in time for events later in Fall 2011.

3.  Adaptive room lighting energy.
In this project, a device is to be designed that senses the light level at a work surface in an office, and commands a dimmer or other lighting control device to maintain a desired light level. The objective is to reduce energy use when natural light is bright enough to meet all or part of the need. The team must demonstrate functionality and show that energy cost will be reduced significantly in an office with exterior windows. The dynamics of the control must be selected to avoid a user sense of flicker or similar rapid changes in brightness, and might occur when the devices responds to passing clouds. The device should interface with commercial electronically-controlled dimmers for fluorescent or solid-state lighting.

4.  Color-adaptive interior lighting.
In this project, tri-color RGB solid-state lighting is to be employed to emulate natural light for windowless work spaces. The team must research how the color and brightness of natural sunlight varies over the course of a day, then design and demonstrate efficient power electronic hardware that can drive a solid-state RGB set to provide an equivalent effect.

5.  Low-cost web-interactive power and energy meter.
In this project, an outlet strip is to be designed that monitors its own power and energy consumption and reports this out on a regular basis. Accuracy must approach “revenue-grade” metering so the device can be used to allocate energy charges. At regular intervals (once per minute is proposed), it should report the watt-hours used during the prior interval, and average power and reactive power consumption over the interval. It should be possible to build the device, given high quantities, for less than US $10 per outlet strip. The device must not consume more than 1000 W-h per year, and must be able to retain data and restart if a power interruption occurs. Data should be reported via wireless connection to a web service.

6.  Elevator wait-time display.
This project requires background research and modelling as well as design of a simple computer-driven display device. It should interact with and accept data from industry-standard electronic elevator controls, and display continuously an estimate of how many seconds of wait time will occur when a person presses the up and down call button. Notice that the device must adjust automatically for usage patterns such as class change intervals and work days compared to weekends. A basic low-energy display, such as an LCD display should show the wait time.

7.  Interactive commemorative plaque.
This project, while mostly software, combines some hardware elements to achieve its objectives. The intention is to use a small touch-sensitive display (for example, a first-generation iPad), as an active and interactive sign adjacent to a laboratory or classroom. In normal operation, the sign displays the room number and may show a donor name. It would be set up to look as much as possible like a permanent bronze plaque. When the device is touched, it should provide an information menu that provides the room schedule, contact information, then access to information about the history of activity there, information about a donor, and similar details. The display should automatically query a central web-based database on regular intervals to keep its information up to date. It must recover automatically and seamlessly from power interruptions, and should maintain enough local information to minimize query requirements. The project should seek ways to connect power and communication to the display as easily yet unobtrusively as possible. Software and hardware methods to help provent theft or tampering are important. Clever use of haptic display effects would be considered a positive feature, as interactive audio is not appropriate.

8.  The above list is not intended to be complete. Teams can seek to propose novel applications of electronics and software for new green buildings. It is important to first search out what is already available commercially before proposing an idea. See the head TA.

9.  Conference-room wireless power.
This project mounts primary power delivery elements in the ceiling, floor, or other suitable surface of a conference room, and employs secondary power pickup elements on or under a large conference table in the room. A driver stage is to be designed to convert conventional ac power to a form suitable for the primary, while a power electronic circuit converts the output of the secondary to regulated dc power suitable for charging a laptop computer, pad computer, or intelligent phone.

10.  Contactless electrical interface.
This project employs a power electronic converter to deliver power to a load without any electrical contacts, most likely through a magnetic interface. Power is drawn from a conventional ac source, and can be delivered either in ac form at 60 Hz or at 48 V dc (the design team can make this choice). It should be able to deliver up to 500 W.

11.  Fuel cell or solar cell simulation circuit
This is a hardware circuit that acts like a fuel cell set (or solar cell set) to support power conversion testing. Fuel cells are similar to batteries but with two major differences: (a) they tend to have higher series impedance than batteries, so the voltage source is “softer” and (b) they do not respond instantly when the external circuit demands more power. Solar cells have a short-circuit current limit in addition to their voltage output. The circuit should be able to simulate a variety of cell connections and power levels, either through programming or easy-to-swap hardware equivalents. Both static and dynamic behavior should be included. One specific example: a hardware circuit that acts like a proton-exchange-membrane fuel cell, and has a nominal output voltage of 48 V and current of up to 10 A. The circuit would produce the same static V-I curve as an actual fuel cell stack, and would also show similar time delays during power increases. Another example is a circuit that acts like a specific nominal 200 W, 30 V solar panel.

12.  Human power harvesting
This project seeks to create a knee-mount, backpack-mount, or other small magnetic generator to produce electric energy during typical walking.  Energy would be converted and stored in a rechargeable battery to smooth out the energy flow rate.  The team should study basic design requirements and attempt to extract energy at the rate of 1 W during walking.

13.  Red Sea/Dead Sea hydro and water project
The level of the Dead Sea in Palestine and Jordan is dropping at an alarming rate because its primary inlet, the Jordan River, is being diverted for irrigation. The present level is more than 400 m below sea level. This project involves the complete design of a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea to replace the Jordan River influx while providing a potent source of hydroelectric power. The team should determine historic flow rates of the Jordan River and determine the possible hydroelectric power available for a pipeline from sea level down to the Dead Sea. The team should select pipe sizes and estimate construction and operating costs. Based on present electricity costs in Palestine and Jordan, how long would it take to recover project costs from the sale of power? Since the pipeline could fully replace the Jordan River flow, it can be assumed that 100% of the river can be used for agriculture. Estimate the added value of this extra irrigation source.

See (not affiliated with this work) for some interesting perspectives and discussion.

14.  Demonstration circuit for blackout mitigation
This project involves building a “local controller” for a small demonstration power grid to show how severe conditions that lead to blackout can be avoided in part.  The project uses several different commercial dc power supplies connected to various loads, and adds an intelligent voltage-sensitive switching system to each.  Under high-stress conditions on the power system (which would be simulated in this case with hardware), supplies drop out at various steps to gradually reduce load and allow the system to recover.

15.  Atmospheric power scavenger
This device uses ambient radio waves, or the natural atmospheric dc electric field, to produce low energy levels for remote sensor applications.  The objective is to converter RF energy (such as from the AM radio band) into a usable 5 V source.  Power levels up to 1 uW are desired, but the team should compute what is feasible in a typical urban environment.

16.  High-performance backup ac power
This project is intended to design a high performance “off line” backup power unit suitable for maintaining power for a small motor.  The unit monitors the power line.  If line power is lost, it switches to a battery-powered inverter within less than 0.1 s.  The inverter output must be fully synchronized to the line so that there is limited inrush current when the switching takes place.  When line power is restored, the unit should wait at least 10 s, re-synchronize, then switch back over to line power.  The battery recharge process is managed as well.

17.  Microcontroller-based power converter
This project involves the use of mixed-signal controllers (such as a PIC or MSP430 series device) for operation and control of dc-dc converters. A complete high-performance closed-loop switching dc-dc converter, with tight (adjustable) output voltage regulation and pulse-by-pulse current limiting is to be implemented in this fashion. The team can select to design a lab power supply substitute with this technique (for output ranges of 0-50 V, 0-20 A, 0-500 W) or can select another voltage/current/power range with a specific application in mind. The microcontroller should be used for the active closed-loop control, and should support tuning of loops to allow performance to be adjusted.

18.  Isolated variable-rate data logger
This project is to design a combined hardware and software approach that can use a conventional PC to record circuit data.  All channels must be fully isolated, from ground and from each other.  Each channel should allow sensing of a voltage from -30 V to + 30 V, with isolation levels of at least 500 V and accuracy of +/- 10 mV.  The system should record up to 32 separate channels, at a rate that can be adjusted from 1 kHz to once per hour.  Data should be recorded and logged in a form suitable for spreadsheet analysis. The device should connect vis a USB port.

19.  Simple long-term data logger
This project seeks to use a desktop PC for a low-cost long-term one-channel data recording device.  The team should choose one conventional computer port that is likely to be open (serial port, USB port, audio MIC input, etc.), and develop a circuit interface that allows a single 0-5 V analog signal to be sensed via that port.  Software should record the data to a web page and to a file suitable for spreadsheet analysis.  Recording intervals should be adjustable over a range from about 0.1 s to 1 hr.

20.  Building power quality monitor
This project  monitors the voltage at an ac outlet in a building, and records the time and nature of any disturbances or failures.  It should record actual waveform data for at least 20 ms before and after a disturbance.  It should respond to voltage changes larger than 5%, to power failures, or to the presence of unusually high harmonic content.  The device should be able to monitor and record, unattended, over an interval of at least 30 days, with data to be downloaded via the web for additional processing.  Under blackout conditions, it should be able to retain data indefinitely, although operation is allowed to cease after a blackout occurs.

21. High-quality low-loss low-cost dc motor speed control
This would use a suitable power electronic converter, in combination with an encoder or tachometer, and feedback control, to produce a motor system that runs at an adjustable speed for a small mobility application. An example would be a small motorized shopping cart, luggage cart or electric golf bag cart.  It should operate from a 12 V battery and control currents over a range of 0 to 50 A.  The controller must be at least 90% efficient for motor loads in the range of 50 to 150 W.  It must be able to deliver 150 W continuously, 250 W for at least one minute, and should deliver up to 50 A at 10 V or more for at least 5 seconds without damage.  If it is overloaded for a longer period, it should shut off automatically and require a reset by the user.  Speed regulation allows a speed decrease of up to 10% for a load change of 0 to 150 W.  Total parts cost (based on high production quantities) not to exceed $12 (includes all electronics and boards but not the motor itself).

22.  Wireless remote motor controller
This would be a suitable power electronic converter with an adjustable speed range of 0 to 100%, with a simple wireless remote based on infrared or RF technology.  The controller must be simple:  start, stop, accelerate, decelerate, and must be convenient to use and easy to learn.  Ideally, it sends a single that can be used in conjunction with the immediately preceding motor control project. An alternative would control a pair of motors, to support steering. This would be the basis for a very efficient robot or small wireless cart.

23.  Hand crank quick-charge temporary cell phone energy source
This is an energy backup that provides enough power for a 5-minute cell phone call, but can be recharged in a few moments just before use.  This might involve a small hand-crank generator and an ultracapacitor.  It would need to deliver 3.3 V and 3 W for up to 5 minutes, with less than 1 minute of cranking effort. Both the electrical and mechanical design aspects need to be addressed by the team.

24.  Computer load enhancer
In many primary and secondary schools, small businesses, and rural areas, electrical service is limited in its ability to handle extensive low-power-factor loads such as personal computers.  In a typical situation, only two computers can be supplied from a single 15 A circuit.  In older buildings, it can be prohibitively expensive to upgrade the electrical service for expansion of computer labs, library computers, or even office support equipment.  The objective of this project is to design and build a low-cost “power factor improvement interface” that would allow a school or other user to expand computer usage without electrical service upgrades.  The interface reduces the current required to operate a computer.  With such an interface, as many as four high-end PCs can be supplied from one 15 A circuit.  Specifications:   provide a 120 V ac output to supply a computer and monitor, with power up to 400 W and complex power up to 800 VA.  The efficiency should be at least 90%, and the power factor seen at the input should be at least 90%, for loads between 100 W and 400 W. (This project has been attempted previously, but most aspects are still available.)

25.  Automobile manual transmission gear indicator
The objective is to build a sensor and processor that provides both a display indication of gear setting for a car with manual transmission and extra diagnostics for purposes of control.  A dashboard LED display should show the gear setting, including neutral and reverse, for a conventional 5-speed gearbox.  The internal digital signals should read out not only the gear position, but also additional positions that anticipate the next gear setting.

26. Multi-output regulated power supply with wide input range
The objective here is to make a small, lightweight “project supply” that would be suitable for use in ECE 445, ECE 110, or other general-purpose lab courses. The input could be any ac voltage from 100 V to 240 V ac. Outputs would be provided at +5V, +12 V, -5 V, -12V, and perhaps one other voltage. Each would be independently adjustable (over a range of 3 V to 6 V for the 5 V outputs, and a range of 10 V to 16 V for the 12 V outputs), and each would be isolated both from the others and from the input.  Minimum supply level would be at least 2 A from each output, with short-circuit protection. A desired extra feature is an adjustable current limit for each output.

27.  Automotive icing preventer
This project seeks to construct a folding panel that resembles a sunshade but functions to help avoid ice accumulation on car windows.  The panel must include three functions:  (a) heating devices with a variable driver that can be adjusted for 30 W to 200 W total power, (b) temperature and humidity sensors that are used to keep the power off unless it is needed, and (c) a supervisory processor that operates the device and monitors the car battery to prevent excessive discharge.  The project has potential industrial support for costs and patents.

28. Low-cost automotive interface for laptop computer
This project aims to develop a dc-dc power converter with the following capability:  Input range is 10 V to 20 V dc.  No damage if the input is negative (connected backwards) or if short voltage spikes up to 75 V are imposed.  Output is 16 V dc +/- 2%.  Load power range is 0 to 50 W.  Electrical isolation is required between input and output.  Miniaturization is important.  The total parts cost should not exceed $10.

29.  Intelligent battery charger
This is an adjustable circuit that can be set to charge any of several types of batteries with high quality and high reliability.  The charger must provide both output current and voltage limits that are set for specific battery types.  The voltage limits must compensate for measured temperature, according to published battery characteristics. The charger must display status, shut off automatically when finished, and intelligently charge old or otherwise damaged batteries.  Example mode:  normal car battery charging — current limit of 10 A, voltage limit of 14.7 V, shuts off when current goes below 0.1 A.  Example mode:  8-cell NiMH charger — current limit of 3 A, voltage limit of 12.8 V, shuts off when output voltage begins to fall and temperature begins to increase.

30. Intelligent computer supply dc backup
Most computer power supplies use forward converter or flyback converter designs. The ac input is rectified into a dc bus at perhaps 300-400V. In this project, we make use of this for the design of backup power. A standard 12 V battery and a boost (or flyback) converter are used to produce about 300 V (isolated). This is connected through a diode directly to the PC supply dc bus. If ac power is lost, the battery backup picks up instantly.  A software signal would also be sent to a serial or USB port to initiate orderly shutdown.  The unit must also provide power suitable for a monitor, so that a computer operated with this backup system can work without interruption during brief power outages. (This project has been attempted in the past, but with only a portion of the features addressed.)

31. Low-voltage power
Design and demonstrate a converter with 1 V, 70 A output from a single +12 V or +5 V input. This is intended to provide clean power for future microcomputers.  The output ripple, noise, and variation should not exceed +/- 2% peak-to-peak.

32. Network power for automobiles
Automobiles contain complicated wire harnesses.  In place of this complexity, manufacturers are trying to move to a “one power one communication” arrangement in which all control and conversion is local.  This project involves the design of a multiple-output power supply that can handle an input range of about +8V to +60 V, and produce regulated +12 V for local loads in a car. In addition, the supply would have an isolated CAN control input, so that a central network can turn each output on or off independently over a single pair of network wires.  The project should demonstrate a supply with a single power input and a single control input that could operate up to five separate 12 V loads.  An example would be a “left-front lighting” controller for a car’s left headlights, high-beams, turn signals, running lights, and other forward external lights.  The design requires two outputs of up to 50 W each and the rest able to supply up to 20 W.

33.  Comparative motor design
The objective is to begin with a small commercial ac induction motor (1/3 HP to 2/3 HP) and design two improved rotor configurations that support comparative analysis in the lab.  One rotor would be based on the commercial product, but would increase the amount of aluminum in the conductor bars to improve efficiency.  The second would use copper in place of aluminum.  The student team should develop analyze the designs, arrange for rotor fabrication, and then test all three rotors for dynamic and steady-state performance.

34.  30 V ac motor
The objective is to design, build, and test a small motor that could be used to replace small dc motors in a range of applications.  The motor should provide shaft output power of up to 60 W continuously.  Motors of this type will become common in automotive applications.  They would run from an inverter that generates three-phase power from a 48 V dc source (producing about 30 V rms).  The motor rated operating frequency is not specified, and can be selected by the team as any value between 50 Hz and 400 Hz.

35.  Alternative energy demonstration tools
The purpose of this project is to create power converters and energy sources to illustrate a variety of functions, to help show the principles of power electronics and alternative energy to beginning electrical engineering students.  An appropriate converter might draw power from a nominal 18 V solar panel or from a generator on a small windmill, and deliver isolated power at 4.5 V (for a CD player), 5 V (for logic circuits or phone charging), 12 V (for various portable devices), and perhaps at 120 V ac to illustrate power flow from these sources.  Educational displays and user interfaces are expected.  The unit should be fully packaged and integrated in a manner suitable for permanent use.

36.  Wind power demonstrator continuation
This project seeks to continue a Summer 2011 project to build a fully functioning scale model of a modern wind turbine.  The team should complete the hardware and control work initiated during the summer, and ultimately demonstrate a complete, failsafe, working unit.

37.  Advanced electric vehicle traction design
In this project, an electric motor is to be repackaged for mounting in place of the engine in a small car.  The project includes both electrical and mechanical elements.  Mechanically, a case and mounting arrangement must be designed to allow the engine to be removed and the motor to be mounted in its place, coupled directly to the clutch and the transmission.  Electrically, a three-phase industrial motor drive must be redesigned to support bidirectional power, interface with driver controls, and connect to the motor.  This is a substantial challenge suitable for up to three teams (two in electrical and one in mechanical).

38.  PC-based or embedded controller-based multi-phase function generator
This project should use an analog output card in a computer with analog amplification or an appropriate microcontroller to produce up to three separate controlled waveforms.  The available outputs should be dc, sine waves, triangle waves, or square waves with adjustment for magnitude, frequency, symmetry (i.e. duty ratio), and relative phase for each output.  The output range should be -10 V to +10 V at a minimum, and the frequency range should be at least 0 to 100 kHz.  A user interface should provide full control of the output arrangement–a Windows program for the PC-based version, potentiometers and switches for the embedded controller version.  Each output should be able to maintain operation with loads of 10 ohms or more.

39.  PC-based magnetic tester
This project should use a PC input-output card, combined with an external amplifier, to yield waveforms that can be used to measure B-H curves and other characteristics of magnetic devices.  The amplifier must be able to deliver up to +/- 5 A at voltage levels up to +/- 20 V, and should operate at dc or at ac frequencies up to 10 kHz. The design should include measurements of up to three independent data channels, with measurements of amplitude and phase for each channel.

40. Low power extended range dc motor controller
This project takes power from a single 12 V lead-acid battery and controls the output to a dc motor.  The output must be adjustable to permit speed control.  Input range: 9 V to 15 V dc.  Output range: 0 to 15 V dc.  The output range must be maintained for all allowed input voltages.  The output power is up to 250 W continuous and 500 W for up to one minute.

41.  Medium power dc motor controller
This project involves the design of a dc motor controller that takes input from batteries in the range of 24 V to 48 V and delivers power to a dc machine at variable voltage.  A speed range of 0-100% should be supported.  The motor shaft output power is rated at 750 W continuous and up to 2500 W for 30 seconds.  The motor efficiency is expected to be about 70%.  The controller should be more than 90% efficient for motor output ranges of 250 W to 750 W.

42.  Efficient low-power supply
This project takes power from a single or pair of batteries, at a voltage from 1.1 V up to 3.5 V, and delivers regulated 3 V output at power levels between 10 mW and 100 mW for a sensor application.  The efficiency with a 100 mW load should be greater than 95%, and for a 10 mW load should be greater than 75%.  The supply should also have a “sleep” mode in which it draws less than 0.1 mW.  Sleep mode is set when a control pin is connected to a high impedance, and the supply recovers to normal operation when the control pin is connected to ground through a low impedance.

43.  Power monitor
Buildings more than a few decades old are generally poorly equipped to deal with the electrical demands of a modern office: computers, printers, copiers, etc.  Also, in a building like Everitt Lab, rooms that were previously office space are converted to laboratories and vice versa, shifting the electrical load.  Facility managers generally do not have enough information to address electrical system shortcomings.  Ideally, they would have access to inexpensive, simple power monitors that could be placed either on individual circuits at the breaker panel or at individual loads (various pieces of large equipment).  Each power monitor should measure RMS current and voltage and determine real power at some reasonable sampling rate, such as once or twice per second.  Most circuits are single-phase, but three-phase capability should be considered.  Each monitor should have either local memory (some sort of flash card) or wireless communication back to a central host.  Safety and non-invasiveness are important concerns.

44.  Everitt electrical system study
Everitt Lab’s electrical system was constructed under very different conditions than are currently relevant.  Labs have replaced offices and vice versa; office equipment has expanded from a few electric typewriters on secretaries’ desks to one or more computers in every room.  This project entails researching the current status of the electrical distribution system (what it is capable of delivering) and the current status of the loads (what the burden is on the system).  Ideally, data would be taken by power monitors that would be put in place for several weeks or months.  Alternatively, loading conditions could be sampled under “typical” operating conditions, which would then be extrapolated to a yearly cycle by interviewing equipment users.

45.  Advanced digitally controlled power converter
Recent advances in digital integrated circuits facilitate control schemes that are difficult or impossible with analog circuitry. For example, gain scheduling is a well-known technique to accommodate widely-varying conditions. This project seeks to develop a SEPIC converter or other suitable multi-state switching power converter with closed-loop control. The converter must operate over at least a 5:1 range of input voltage, output voltage set point, and load current. The controller should leverage an IC designed particularly for control of switching power converters. Dynamic performance (response to changing input voltage, load current, or set point) should be as good as a converter designed for a more limited set of operating conditions.

46.  Electrical sensing interfaces for an automobile
In this project, the objective is to provide digital signals that yield the following information: Relative pedal positions (brake, accelerator, clutch if present), 0 to maximum; steering wheel position (maximum clockwise to maximum counter-clockwise, 0 at center); key position (lock, off, on, acc, start); gear shift status and position (automatic or manual).  The data must be failsafe, defaulting to an acceptable safe value if a wire is broken or other minor problem occurs.  Data must be updated at least 20 times per second.  Identify and use an accepted automotive industry data format and protocol.

47.  Current-fed power converter demonstration circuit and test
Design and build a dc-dc converter that uses the “current-fed buck” circuit topology.  The desired ratings are:  Input voltage range 10 V to 18 V; output voltage adjustable to 3.3 V and 5.0 V; output power 0 to 50 W; input current ripple less than +/- 2% at full power; efficiency at least 90% at 5 V and 50 W output; closed-loop control responds to disturbances in less than 1 ms.