On April 5, the WSC Ballroom on Brigham Young University campus was turned into a showroom for 56 different projects as part of the annual Capstone Design Fair. The teams for these projects presented design work and prototypes that they have been working on since Fall semester as part of the Capstone program in the College of Engineering.
Some of the projects are part of ongoing efforts for sponsors to solve problems, and Capstone teams will attack different aspects of the design over several years. This was the case for the project sponsored by COLSA and the US Space Force. The design task for the student team was to automate the process of an antenna dish to acquire and track a satellite. A team last year incorporated motors and actuators to allow the dish to move. Next year's team will be making a bigger and better version incorporating the design efforts from the previous two years.
Despite it being an ongoing project, the US Space Force Auto-Tracking Antenna team discovered that there was so much they were unfamiliar with. Team member Kai Hicken explained the benefits of working with the sponsor as they worked through their project and the benefits of that.
“There was just so much in this project we didn’t know anything about, and so we worked with our sponsors a lot. We went to their facility in Colorado and they showed us a million things,” Hicken said. “After that we felt like we really knew how to do stuff. It was a lot of fun.”
The Rugged Raft team, sponsored by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was tasked with designing a raft able to be hit by fragments traveling at high speed and stay afloat while protecting onboard diagnostic equipment. This project came with unique challenges to overcome because of the nature of the project.
“We needed a pretty big workspace, so getting all the parts we needed and then assembling it in a space that was pretty constrained was fairly difficult, as well as finding methods of transportation for such a large project,” the team said. “But we actually get to take it out to Utah Lake next week to do a flotation test.”
Despite these unique obstacles, the team also has found value in the opportunity to create something that will be most directly applied to industry.
“One of the most fulfilling things about it has been being able to create something that will actually be used,” they explained. “This isn’t just some prototype, they're actually taking what we’ve built and using it for their first test, and they’ll continue using our suppliers and design for further testing, and so it’s really fulfilling to know that our design is directly being applied instead of just tossed into the archives.”
Capstone projects dive into every field. There are projects related to medicine, defense, mechatronics and even food with an automated system that can deshell crawfish. One project this year even dealt with actual fields—corn fields to be specific. A team sponsored by the BYU Crop Biomechanics Lab, created a process for automated crop stalk measurement.
Corn season and Capstone season don’t necessarily align, so this team had to think outside the box in order to verify they had a good design.
“This is actually my second agriculture related engineering project while in college. What I like about working in the agriculture space is that there's a really strong social and human impact for it,” said team member Sam McKinnon. “I like knowing that what I’m working on makes a difference. So I may not go work in corn after graduation, but I do like social impact.”
Other projects allowed the students to dip into fields they have always been passionate about and prepare the next generation of engineers. This was the case for the Electric Dragster Powertrain Control System team. Their sponsor Zero Nox tasked them with developing the control system for a dragster to be used as a learning tool for a local high school.
“I’ve always loved electric vehicles, so having that experience is a big benefit for me, and I think that’s what a lot of our team is really excited about is being able to say we worked on the components of this vehicle,” said team member Will Andersen. “That’s something I loved, learning about things and being able to use very expensive equipment that we’d never get to use in any other situation that allows us to program. The highlight for me was getting to experience all these different components that are not accessible outside the Capstone project.”
The goal of the Capstone program is to “help students become design professionals who can blend creative, technical, interpersonal, and management skills to develop products that are both desirable and transferable.” All 56 projects will be used in various ways to improve the fields they contribute to as the students themselves move on to graduation.