CU Denver engineer presenter

After at least four years of studying, engineering seniors displayed their final creations at the Senior Design Competition on May 11. Applying their knowledge to real-world problems, they came up with projects that could facilitate medical research, design collaboration and environmental cleanup.

Sandbox at CU Denver Engineering Design Competition
Erica Lefeave, communications and outreach manager for the College of Engineering and Applied Science, puts her hand in the Augmented Reality Sandbox. The sandbox creates a live, interactive topography that updates dynamically as a user interacts with the sand.

The competition brings together teams of engineering students in each discipline within the College of Engineering and Applied Science – bioengineering, civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering – as well as multidisciplinary groups. Some teams work to perfect past design projects, while others seek to solve new problems.

Thinking big – and small

While one team devised a navigation program for a self-driving car, another created an airplane tug and yet another demonstrated a virtual reality 3D-modeling program. With just a few swishes of the finger, a Concept VR team member created a 3D model of a staircase which instantly appeared on a nearby TV screen. This project could facilitate international design collaboration by creating instant 3D visuals.

Even with the variety, a consistent theme throughout the competition was that small changes can have a big impact. Streamlining a process in one way can have a ripple effect enabling faster, better innovation.

On a Bioprinter project, engineering students looked for a way to push biological material through a smaller needle, thereby yielding more accurate results from initial lab tests. The smaller needle – called an extrusion tip – allows researchers to create a more natural environment on which cell cultures can live, so that the cells behave more as they would in a human body.

“This frame was designed by students last year, but it had an extrusion tip of 260 microns,” said Dominic Isaacs of the Bioprinter project. “We got that down to 100.”

Achieving this wasn’t as simple as changing a needle, though. The biological material being extruded was too thick to go through a needle that small, so the students had to ensure that the material was consistently heated throughout the process.

New medical technologies

Another project built on the principle that small changes can have a big impact was the Linguistic Analyzer. The analyzer is a computer program that compares the language of regulations (for instance, FDA regulations for new drugs and medical technologies) to those of the applications for approval. The simple change could get new medical technologies to market years earlier.

Tiny house project at CU Denver
Electrical engineering students created a net-zero tiny house that will run off solar power. The project won in the Electrical Engineering category.

“After a new medical technology is rejected, it’s 90 days before they can apply again, so oftentimes it’s years before a new technology gets to market,” said Tyler Blanton, a student on the project team. “By giving them an idea of whether it’s likely to be accepted before they apply, we’re hoping to enable them to be accepted on the first try.”

The winners

Overall: Project Censored – A program that collects and analyzes data about critical plant infrastructure to help Martin Marietta reduce machinery failure.

Bioengineering: FetoPort – A port adaptor that allows fetal surgeons to use laporascopic and fetoscopic instruments.

Civil Engineering: Sanderson Gulch Channel Restoration – An analysis of the erosion of the banks of Sanderson Gulch, and a design for drainage and water quality infrastructure improvements.

Computer Science: Emergency Safety Proximity – A mobile app that helps users find the nearest emergency safety zones and notifies emergency contacts when a user enters a safety zone.

Electrical Engineering: Tiny House Renewable – A solar-powered net-zero energy tiny house with a graphical user interface to maximize efficiency.

Mechanical Engineering: Odyssey: NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge – A human-powered rover designed to traverse off-road terrain found on various celestial bodies.

Multidisciplinary: Project [un]Contained – A multipurpose, self-sustaining shipping container structure to help developing world infrastructure.

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