Group Engineering Projects,
Learning and Fun -- ECE 191

December 14, 2006

By Daniel Kane

Anson Hsu rushes to convert Gizmo into an autonomous Wi-fi Sniffer Truck for his10 minute final exam presentation with team member Dan Curcio.

Have you ever been to a final exam scheduled for a Friday night that is open to the public and includes dinner and sometimes a movie? If not, you haven’t been to the final exam for ECE 191 – Engineering Group Design Project – an upper level electrical and computer engineering (ECE) undergraduate class at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering.

ECE 191 students don’t attend official classes, but that’s not because they are avoiding lectures. Instead, they learn engineering design by working in groups on real-world projects sponsored by industry. Creating keyless locks using RFID technology, generating power and charging batteries using wireless technologies, and designing situational awareness systems with GPS and audio recorded from the environment are just a few examples.

The students receive guidance from their mentors, who are UCSD professors, Calit2 staff scientists or engineers working in industry. For the final exam at the end of each quarter, all the students present their work to their professors, mentors, sponsors and the general audience.

For the final exam for the Fall 2006 quarter, the movie half of the “dinner and movie” quip referred to a video clip starring a high-tech ballast tank that will eventually be used to change the depth of a human-powered submarine.

Elizabeth and Kevin Wyrwich demonstrate their keyless entry
system that relies on RFID technology.

“Our friends in industry tell us that they are interested in students with systems engineering experience – that means experience talking to clients, defining statements of work, designing and testing,” said Charles Tu, associate dean of engineering at the Jacobs School. “ECE 191 is systems engineering. You are learning systems engineering as you do your projects.”

At the start of the evening, long-time ECE 191 instructor Professor Pankaj Das reminded the crowd that it was, in fact, the final exam for the students: “This is a serious affair.”

And it was serious. Each group had only ten minutes to give a full overview of the engineering problem, methods, results and conclusions as well as answer questions from UCSD professors, other engineers, and the general audience.

After the last presentation for the night – on using circuit level blocks to represent complex encrypting algorithms – the atmosphere grew more relaxed. The judges took a break to decide which group would win the $100 dollar gift certificate to the bookstore. Some students talked with mentors, sponsors and classmates. Others fiddled with laptops and played with their presentation demos. With a plate of fruit salad in one hand and a Bluetooth enabled cell phone – programmed with homespun software for controlling the remote control vehicle named Gizmo in the other – electrical engineering undergraduate Kristi Tsukida guided Gizmo around and occasionally right into the legs and feet of the appreciative crowd.

Anju Tsao presented an avalanche of equations as a part of her presentation on RF circuit analysis using algebraic geometry.

The judges soon returned and announced the first prize winners: Elizabeth and Kevin Wyrwich – the brother and sister group who worked on the RFID Tags project for the quarter. The pair used RFID technology to implement a keyless-lock access control system and showed that RFID tags can provide a way for the wireless transfer of information through non-conductive obstructions such as wooden doors.

Anju Tsao and Noelly Nguyen’s analysis of RF circuits using algebraic geometry earned them the first runner up award. They tested out a new methodology for performing nonlinear circuit analysis.

Alex Chan and Richard Edu earned the second runner up spot for their work on Bluetooth data transmission. The pair investigated and tested various implementations of Bluetooth technology for the transmission of data and/or voice over distances of three to ten meters. They successfully implemented a base station that enables a Bluetooth headset to be used with devices that take audio inputs and outputs such as Skype and Ipod.

At the final exam, Clark Guest an ECE professor and ECE 191 instructor, offered his thanks to the mentors and sponsors. “This course would not be possible without you. The students and ECE department highly value your participation.”

Fall 2006 sponsors included Booz Allen Hamilton, Calit2, Raytheon, SONY, SPAWAR and the Jacobs School of Engineering.


Daniel Kane, 858-534-3262

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