Autonomous Greenhouse Monitoring and Control System – A group of students at the University of Illinois developed an autonomous greenhouse monitoring and control system as their senior design project. They designed and built a wireless sensor network to monitor temperature, humidity, soil moisture and light levels throughout the greenhouse. An arduino-based central controller processes the sensor data and controls actuators like fans, heaters and irrigation systems to optimize the greenhouse environment. This system was implemented at a local community garden to help automate operations and improve crop yields.
High School Science Lab Inventory System – For their capstone, a team at Georgia Tech developed an RFID-based inventory tracking system for a local high school science department. Dozens of expensive lab equipment and chemical stock were tagged with passive RFID labels. Readers stationed at entry/exit points of the storage rooms automatically log check-ins and check-outs of the items. A database tracks the location and usage of all assets. This helps the teachers more easily locate equipment and ensures nothing gets lost or goes missing. It saved school administrators time and money.
Accessible Parking Space Guidance System – Students at the University of Michigan designed and built a prototype accessible parking guidance system. Their solution uses ultrasonic sensors and a raspberry pi to detect open handicap parking spots around a large campus facility. The available spots are displayed on electronic signage in the parking lot with arrows pointing drivers to the spaces. It also integrates with an accessible parking space reservation app. The campus disability services office was impressed with the project and worked with the students to commercialize and implement the design in multiple campus parking structures.
Smart Irrigation Controller – An interdisciplinary senior design group at Arizona State created an IoT-based smart irrigation controller to automatically water parks and sports fields based on real-time soil moisture levels and weather forecasts. The system monitors soil moisture at various points across an athletic field with buried sensor nodes connected to a central raspberry pi controller. It receives local weather data online. Rules were programmed to only run the sprinklers as needed to maintain optimal soil moisture and avoid wasting water. This was adopted by the city parks department who reported substantial water savings.
Bridge Scour Monitoring System – As part of their degree, civil engineering students at Texas A&M designed and built a prototype real-time bridge scour monitoring system. Bridge scour, the removal of sediment such as sand and gravel from around bridge abutments or piers, is a major cause of bridge failures during floods. The students came up with an ultrasonic sensor-based solution that continually measures the depth of sediment to detect if scour is occurring. An embedded system transmits the data to officials. Impressed with the low-cost design, the state Department of Transportation implemented the system on 10 at-risk bridges to improve safety monitoring.
Modular Prosthetic Limb – For their biomedical engineering capstone, a group of seniors at Vanderbilt University worked with a prosthetics clinic to develop a low-cost modular prosthetic limb. Their innovative 3D printed design uses easy-change sockets and components to accommodate growing children through adolescence who need frequent size adjustments. Production costs were greatly reduced compared to traditional custom-fit models. The clinic has been very pleased with the clinical outcomes and how it has helped more patients afford prosthetic care. The students also founded a social enterprise to commercialize and provide the affordable prosthetic in developing countries.
Those are just a few examples, but they demonstrate how capstone engineering projects provide real value by developing solutions that directly benefit communities and industries. The experiential learning prepares students will with practical job skills while also allowing them to have a positive societal impact. When projects are implemented for real applications, it provides validation for the designs and ensures the work has lasting impact beyond the classroom. Engineering is all about applying scientific and technical knowledge to solve problems, and senior design capstone courses give students the opportunity to do just that at the culmination of their undergraduate education.