By Greg Mably
Illustration by Greg Marbly.
All Systems Go
For SPU’s next generation of engineers, it’s all ideas, all the time
Imagine life without cell phones, computers, or even a simple light switch. Different, right? What do you think the next “must-have“ is going to be? Who knows, maybe the answer will begin in the very active mind of a Seattle Pacific University engineering student.
Currently, 20 senior electrical engineering students at SPU are learning what it takes to create the next great innovation. For their senior design projects, the budding engineers are putting their best ideas to work for a wide variety of purposes: using human power to conduct business in Africa, reducing energy consumption on campus, and improving our moods with colored lights.
The Seattle Pacific University seniors work in teams of four, and can often be found perfecting their design projects in Otto Miller Hall. It’s not a residence hall, but if you visit at 11 p.m., you might mistake it for one. Study sessions and paper airplane contests both take place deep into the night.
A tight-knit bunch, the students must complete 151 credits in their major to graduate with an electrical engineering (EE) degree. That’s almost twice the average credit load for a degree program at SPU. These intense requirements mean EE students attend most of their classes together, study together, and, of course, tackle projects together. “I can honestly say that everyone in our class is a friend,“ says senior Mark Seymour.
There’s much more to the program than the challenging engineering, science, and math curriculum, says Associate Professor Kevin Bolding. “We try to encourage camaraderie — and humor obviously helps.“ After one safety lecture, Bolding dressed a 2-foot-tall Elmo up in safety goggles and a wrist strap, and set him to work on a circuit board. He attached a sign that read, “Elmo, of course, obeys all lab safety rules.“ Originally a gift from the male EE students to the female EE students, Elmo lives in Miller Hall, where his outfits and whereabouts change regularly.
So what does this camaraderie — and a lot of hard work — yield? Read on to meet three teams of seniors who have more good ideas than they know what to do with, and learn why they believe their senior design project just might change the world.
Cranking up the energy in Africa
Project: Human Power Converter
Group Members: (left to right) Haley Krommenhoek, Tim Ogne, Michael Shi, and Zach Williams
Senior Project Group - Seattle Pacific UniversityIn rural Africa, where electrical outlets are hard to find, people will often bus into town for miles just to charge their phones — making electrical power big business. SPU seniors Haley Krommenhoek, Tim Ogne, Michael Shi, and Zach Williams had a brainstorm: They’d like to see village entrepreneurs provide this service themselves — with human power, instead of outlets or batteries. The team is upgrading a foot-pump-operated human power converter called “the Weza“ to support the rigorous use it would get in an African village.
Williams spent last summer in the African country of Rwanda, interning with Freeplay Foundation, which specializes in providing crank-operated radios to impoverished countries. Such devices cut down on the cost and pollution associated with batteries. Now the SPU electrical engineering team is planning to offer their senior design project at no cost to Freeplay once it is completed. “I hope they will mass-produce this for use in sub-Saharan Africa,“ says Williams. “It will give people energy for home use and a way to generate income.“
The team’s redesign of the Weza will operate by a bicycle pedal, generating more energy with less exertion. The redesign also includes plug-ins to save on wear if a power outlet is available, and a hook-up for hair clippers, or other electronics that could be used for a business.
It’s this combination of sustainable energy, entrepreneurship, and — most of all — service that excites the SPU students. “As Christians, we’re called to serve,“ Ogne says. “Engineering expands our possibilities to help people.“
Taking a crash course in campus consumption
Project: Gas and electricity monitor
Group Members: (left to right) Hanane Benanaya, Mark Seymour, Cody Vanderpol, and Stephanie Dost
Senior Project Team - Seattle Pacific UniversityWould you eat vegetables if you didn’t know they were good for you? Maybe not. Would you turn off the lights when you left a room, if you knew just how much energy you would save? Maybe. Awareness leads to change, explains SPU senior Mark Seymour. Which is why he and fellow team members Hanane Benanaya, Stephanie Dost, and Cody Vanderpol are building a first-of-its-kind energy monitoring system for SPU’s own Otto Miller Hall — home of the engineering program.
The senior student team is designing a box that will read information from two city agencies — Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy — and then automatically display the data on a website. But it’s not just plain old data. The team’s idea is that people who use Miller Hall will be able to see in visual detail how making various changes, such as turning down the temperature, or using solar panels, would affect overall energy usage in the building. “Optimizing energy efficiency“ is the goal, says Vanderpol.
The website display is similar to seeing how lifting weights with different techniques or at different times of day affects your body, and then choosing a workout that has the most impact on your overall health. It’s all about putting information to work.
Associate Professor of Physics John Lindberg helped come up with the idea, because he wants to aid in cutting down on campus consumption. “That’s part of being a good steward,“ he says. “If we truly believe God made the environment, we should take care of it.“
Getting the “mood lighting” right
Project: Environmentally controlled LED lighting
Group Members: (left to right) Graham Schwinn, Danielle Parris, Nathan Everett, and Phil Chase
Senior Project Team - Seattle Pacific UniversityA standard incandescent light aggravates SPU senior Graham Schwinn. “When I see a lighting system based on 100-year-old technology, that just annoys me,“ he says. “It only converts 10 percent of the energy used into light.“
His frustration led him and Danielle Parris, Nathan Everett, and Phil Chase to experiment with LED (Light-Emitting Diode) lights for their senior design project. LEDs — now commonly used for streetlights, flashlights, and even Christmas lights — are 80-100 percent more efficient than standard bulbs and last 133 times longer.
The team’s bright idea, which attracted a $10,000 grant from Puget Sound Energy, was an LED lighting system that will turn on when someone enters the room; dim or brighten depending on the amount of additional light in the room; and sense the outside temperature and change color accordingly.
So how do these lights get so “smart“?
Parris is writing most of the software code that tells the lights to respond to their environment. That code is the basis for a motion sensor, communication with weather.com, and a tool that measures light. The LED lights will change color almost unnoticeably based on the outside temperature, emitting a red hue in cold weather and a blue shade in warm weather. The group theorizes that people will respond psychologically to the color: cheering up with the red color in the darker winter months. “We’re hoping to ease the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD),“ says Schwinn.
Not only does the new system lessen his aggravation with inefficiency, but it gives a whole new meaning to “mood lighting.“
By Julia Nicholls
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