All posts by Chris Lindahl

Senior Design Project Expo

Another year, another batch of graduating seniors displaying the best and brightest of projects. Last Saturday, the basement of Marcus Hall was converted into a design exposition featuring thirteen project from ECE’s outgoing seniors. The event went from 11-2PM, and the house was full the entire time. Children, grandparents, faculty, students, and purely interested people shuffled around the lower-level corridor in awe of the spectacular ideas brought to life by UMass’ own.


Many projects, like the EZ Parking System had obvious potential for mass implementation. The idea was put into real-world use by Krysten Moore, Myron Tan, Felix Lam, and Chi Ito Liem. The group was inspired by EZ Pass transponders, ubiquitous on the Mass Pike. It consists of an RFID transponder fixed to the windshield of a vehicle, and a receiver situated at a parking spot. The two radios communicate, automatically debiting a user’s account to pay for parking. The system was designed to remedy the issue of running out of time at a parking meter. Real life testing in Downtown Amherst was completed by the group, and they feel confident that it could be easily implemented in such a scenario.


Perhaps one of the most elaborate and eye-catching displays was the Real-Time Concussion Analyzer. The analyzer is a system designed by Scott Rosa, Kenny Van Tassell, Tim Coyle, and Justin Kober in response to the recent unearthing of a serious risk of brain injury among NFL players. The helmet collects data in real time, processed through a concussion detection algorithm, and sends reports to a coach’s Android device on the sidelines. The group decided to focus on high school and Pop Warner football, hoping to develop a more affordable alternative to a $5,000 system that performs similar functions. The RCA costs about $96.





Tim Hill, Shuwen Cao, Melissa Lau, and Andy Yee’s TAKtile seeks to incorporate a capacitive touchpad in a keyboard. Lau explains that she wanted to mix the world of a touch keyboard and a physical keyboard. As a result, the TAKtile provides both tactile feedback and touch capabilities in one device. It allows the user to click and scroll using the same surface that they type on. Additionally, the group hopes to incorporate multi-touch gestures, like those found on iOS and Android devices, that allow the user to perform a variety of tasks.


The SBox seeks to solve the ever-present problem of public bacchanalianism. Fabien Ahmed, Yulia Bulgakova, Arber Doci, and Christos Mpelkas created a system that uses an NFC tag (like one found on a phone) to monitor a user’s consumption of alcohol at an event. At each purchase, the vendor uses SBox to scan a user’s NFC tag. The system will then check if a user is “allowed” to buy another drink based on a predetermined limit set by the vendor.


Children with disabilities were the inspiration for John Jackson, Kyle George, Srideep Maulik, and Soaib Rashid’s Assisted Music Player. The AMP provides oppurtunities for independent stress, anxiety, and depression relief. The system consists of a stuffed bear outfitted with external speakers and LEDs that provide calming visual stimulation.


Children were also the inspiration for Joel Jean-Claude, Sachin honnudike, Anita Ganesan, and Eric Moore’s ClockAide. The ClockAide helps students how to read and set time on an analog clock. Each student is given a unique ID number, and they are allowed to practice reading and setting time. It has a quiz mode, and speaks and displays the current time to the user when prompted.


The PBB, or Personal Black Box, does what you would think: it captures data from a user’s surroundings. Ryan Holmes, Jack Vorwald, Mike Burns, and Brett Kaplan were inspired by the Trayvon Martin Case. It is there hope that a device that captures auditory data from the last minutes before a crime is committed will help the courts when little first-hand evidence is otherwise available.


Simon Belkin, Audrey Finken, Grand George, and Matthew Walczak designed a multispectral camera designed to be an option to outfit on a vehicle similar to the Mars Rover. The system is designed to perform analysis of samples at close to medium distances. Additionally, the group hopes that their system would allow amateur scientists to expand their hobby in an affordable way.


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The SFD seeks to remedy a problem plagued by swimmers: keeping time while underwater. The system consists of a pressure mat mounted to the pool wall, and a waterproof clock installed at the bottom of the pool. As a swimmer pushes off the wall, the pressure sensor is triggered, and they are able to see their time on the clock at the bottom of the pool.


The PowerPi by Chris Finn, Paulo Leal, Tim Mirabito, and Kevin Okiah helps users monitor the power consumption in their home. The device stores data and reports it back to the user in an understandable way, through a software application. Additionally, the system allows users to switch outlets on and off from the web-based interface.


The B.I.G. by Mike Barber, Trevor Elkins, Justin Mills, and Derek Thrasher seeks to help users learn a new skill faster. The B.I.G. consists of a guitar with an LED-equipped fretboard, strum detection, fret detection, and error feedback. The system combines these components to provide feedback and instruction, helping the user learn how to play guitar faster and easier than ever before possible.




The MARS is an avalanche-detection system designed around multiple components to help a user in the event of an avalanche.



With James cassell, Roland Du, Lawrence Hui, and Andrew Santos’ Fully Operational Opponent System, you can play foosball with an expert even if your skills are subpar. The system uses motors to push, pull, and rotate the goalie bar to allow handicapping of a game. Additionally, it implements image tracking software to track the location of the ball.



Open House at M5

This past Friday, prospective students visiting UMass for open house got a chance to visit M5. We opened our doors to dozens of high school seniors interested in the College of Engineering, hoping to give them a better glimpse in the day-to-day life of an engineering student. Multiple demos were on display, including the Fire Fighting Robot. David was on hand to show off the machine shop, and Christian (in mad scientist garb) gave a demo. The students seemed very receptive and enthusiastic about the opportunities available at the University, the college, and M5 itself. Professor Soules, M5 Staff, and engineering students were in constant conversation with interested students, providing insight, advice, and encouragement about the life of an engineering student.



Save these Dates!

ECE students, faculty, and staff! Here are some upcoming events that you won’t want to miss:

Friday, 19 April

  • Senior Design Project Day: 10AM-2PM, Marcus Hall
  • Picnic: 3PM-7PM, Hadley Young Men’s Club

Saturday, 20 April

  • Senior Design Project Expo, 11AM-2PM, Lower Level of Marcus Hall
  • Circuits and Cable, 12PM-4PM, 5 Marcus Hall (M5)

Friday, 26 April

  • Banquet, 6PM, Hadley Marriot

Friday, 10 May

  • Graduate Commencement, 9AM, Mullins Center
  • Undergraduate Commencement, 5PM-6:30PM, McGuirk Stadium

Saturday, 11 May

  • Engineering Senior Recognition Celebration, 9AM-10:30AM, Recreation Center

ECE in the News

Electrical and Computer Engineering students Scott Rosa, Kenny Van Tassell, Tim Coyle, and Justin Kober were recently featured in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian for their Senior Design Project. The project, a football helmet equipped with a Real-time Concussion Analyzer (RCA), is designed to address the now-apparent problem of brain damage among NFL players. The helmet collects data in real time, processed through a concussion detection algorithm, and sends reports to a coach’s Android device on the sidelines. The group decided to focus on high school and Pop Warner football, hoping to develop a more affordable alternative to a $5,000 system that performs similar functions. The RCA costs about $96.

Be sure to check out Senior Design Project Day on April 19 and the ECE Showcase on April 20 to see the helmet, and many more projects, in person.

Circuits and Code Fall 2012

The latest installment of Circuits and Code proved to be a smashing success with 20 projects on display and countless curious visitors. Community members, professors, local students, and the public all got a look into the brains of Engineers and the wide variety of projects they have completed.

Alden Michaels’ 16.7 Million Color Room featuring WiFi-enabled high power RGB LEDs controlled through an Android device.

Justin Waller’s Simple, Portable, Affordable Speakers, a project to design and build speakers that are portable, affordable, and strong enough to play off of a computer or iPod.

Derek Foster’s RGB Home Thermometer runs off Arduino and is capable of measuring environmental temperature and reporting the data numerically and through an LED.

With the press of a switch, David Patlut’s Electronic Paintball Case raises a paintball marker.

Chitula Chipimo, Peter Blum, and Noah Portnoy’s Fire-Fighting Robot is designed to seek out fire and extinguish it using CO2.

Designed by Arseny Izotov and Gabriela Calinao Correa, Izobrot Magnetic Electronics is an electronics toy kit for children containing parts that snap together with magnet

Chad Bonin’s Mystical Mic is a microphone for kids that offers voice changing up and down octaves and a robot function.

Albion Lici’s Arkanoid Controller allows the user to control a PC version of the game Arkanoid from their Android phone.

Controlled by an Arduino, David DeAngelo’s Stalking Autonomous Machine is an RC car that follows a moving target.

Julie Norton’s Piezo Ped is a shoe insert that turns mechanical energy into juice for your cellphone or MP3 player.

Play the Room is an ongoing M5 project headed by Michael Murphy designed to create music out of everyday fixtures.

Melissa and Mathew Lau present the MIDI-Lick Arduino Unit, a MIDI controller that offers control of individual instruments on each key using capacitive-touch swipe gestures.

Raveena Kothare’s EAGLE Circuit Board software explores the functions of EAGLE by Cadsoft, the Accurate 366 and the PhCNC software.

George Koomson’s 4x4x4 Arduino LED Cube uses a simple setup of 16 “spires” of 4 RGB LEDs stacked on top of each other rather than the traditional block of LEDs attached to multiple shift registers.

Chhayou Hak’s 12 Watt Solar Panel is a solar-powered battery charger.

A part of M5’s Experimental College, Arber Doci’s Finance Seminar Series is a series of hour-long seminars covering a wide range of topics ranging from stocks and options to banking and taxes.

Luke Vu’s World Clock features a typographical display that tells the time using words instead of numbers.

Tiffany Jao and Don Liang present the Ultra Violet robot.

Christopher Allum’s Project Haptic Belt connects to the user’s Android’s GPS to give the wearer information about relative location through a series of vibrating motors.

Jose LaSalle’s project provides Wireless Electricity Through Joule Thief. It supplies sufficient power to wirelessly light an LED with a voltage requirement greater than that of a battery by means of Tesla’s bifilar coil and a joule thief.



ABCs of Android Platform Development

Android, iOS, or Windows? That question was at the heart of James Schafer’s presentation last Friday at M5. Schafer is a research assistant at UMass’ 5G Mobile Evolution Lab led by Professor Aura Ganz. The lab, and Schafer himself, are focused on “elevating human potential through technology.” The lab’s mission is a response to the rise of smartphones to ubiquity. A single smartphone now replaces the functions of many expensive devices that serve a specific purpose. GPS, MP3 Player, web browser, camera, and phone have all come together to make our lives easier.

But what about the lives of a visually impaired person? Yes, even a completely blind person is capable of using a touchscreen phone with virtually no tactile feedback. Scanning money? The device that costs $200-300 is now replaced by a $2 app. Magnification? What used to cost $1000 can now be had for pocket change. In Schafer’s words, with a smartphone “all is one.”

To the question of platform, Schafer found the answer easy: Android. Ultimately, the open-source nature of the Android ecosystem trumped the ease-of-use and tight quality control that iOS and Windows Phones offer. The advantages of open source software center around the community of developers that work on it. The community continuously develops off the work of others, sharing, learning, and growing together. The flexible and completely customizable nature of the platform is another thing that drew Schafer towards it. Native and third party apps have equal access to the API, meaning that anyone can modify any part of the device’s software. This has allowed Android to be implemented in a number of different applications including a Nikon camera, in-dash car entertainment systems, washers and dryers, smart TVs, and tablets. Schafer himself modified the kernel level and C++ libraries on his Motorola Xoom tablet, creating a custom homescreen that makes his preference of using his thumbs feel more natural. Because of this, he likes to think of Android as an extension of the individual.

It’s relatively simple to get started developing on Android. All you need is a computer; Windows, Mac, or Linux will all work fine. Schafer personally recommends using a IDE, or integrated development environment, like the free Eclipse. Additionally, you’ll need to download the Java Development Kit and the Android SDK. This process is comparatively less restrictive than the Windows Phone and iOS development process. With Windows Phone, you must have a Windows computer, and the free version of the IDE is limited in functionality.

After development, the next step is distribution. With Android, you are free to distribute your app to anyone without going through Google. However, if you do choose to distribute via the Google Play marketplace, a one-time $25 fee is levied. This is much less restrictive (and less expensive) than distribution for iOS and Windows Phone. Apple charges $99 per year for unlimited app distribution and has an approval process that can sometimes take months. Windows Phone charges a one-time $99 fee that covers up to 5 apps, and also has an approval process. Neither iOS nor Windows apps can be distributed outside of their app marketplaces.

Schafer demonstrated his current project, an indoor navigation system for visually impaired individuals. The system consists of an RFID glove equipped with an Arduino Pro Mini and a kiosk that is placed in the entrance of a building. The kiosk features RFID tags for each floor and room number labeled both in text and braille. The user approaches the kiosk and places their glove over their desired floor and room number. Detailed instructions are then played through their smartphone. The system is currently in use in Marston Hall.

Schafer implemented a similar system somewhere much closer to home: for his elderly grandmother. Having tried many different cell phones for her, including the Jitterbug, Schafer knew he had to come up with an easier solution. He installed a kiosk in his grandmother’s house with RFID tagged pictures of anyone she might want to talk to. To place a call, she simply needs to touch her smartphone to one of the pictures and the phone dials the desired party, confirmed through a picture on the screen. The simple tactile and visual interface has served his grandmother, who suffers from dementia, wonderfully.

Click here to download the PowerPoint presentation from the talk.


Circuits and Code >> 1 December 2012

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at UMass Amherst invites tech-loving and even tech-skeptical folks to attend the 4rd biannual Circuits & Code event – a celebration of technology, engineering, science, mathematics and creativity.

Saturday, 1 December 2012 – 12 Noon – 4 PM – Marcus Hall, Room 5 at UMass Amherst.

Please get your free tickets >> HERE <<

Your online registration will be a great help to us as we plan for adequate refreshments.

Please read about the projects >> HERE <<

Come and see projects which demonstrate the power of electronics and computing!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

T. Baird Soules
Director of M5
Marcus Hall Room 5
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst MA 01003-5215 USA

Art Meets Electronics: Dance Floor 64

What’s better than lights, electronic beats, and high power? Michael Grabschied’s Dance Floor 64 takes all of that and combines it with a high level of electrical prowess to create what will be the world’s largest dance pad featuring high-powered LEDs. In short, the project is quintessentially M5.

Grabscheid is an electronics and music hobbyist as pure as they come. He currently serves as the Director of Marketing at UMass Amherst. Although he studied Math and Engineering in college, his training was largely unused for most of his life. While filling various marketing positions, it was clear that Grabschied was not your average nine-to-fiver. His unique CV includes projects like organizing four U.S. Solar-Electric championship car rallies and growing a sustainable building and park demonstration project from the ground up. More close to home, he organized “Unbroken Chain: The Grateful Dead in Music, Culture and Memory” at UMass Amherst, an academic symposium and artistic celebration of The Grateful Dead, the first of its kind to be hosted at a major research university.

Even with his eclectic accomplishments, Grabscheid admits he left his college degree largely unused until the last 6 or 7 years. In part, he credits his position with the University for allowing him to explore his interests. For him, UMass is not just a day job, but a community in which he can explore and bolster his interests. Now considering himself a hobbyist/inventor/artist, he is enthusiastic about creating and innovating digital sound and light devices.

Grabscheid’s interest in the combination of light and sound started in high school. His school had received a grant to purchase a DEC PDP. His experience with the computer coincided with his discovery of two albums: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and The Grateful Dead’s live album Europe ’72. Pink Floyd’s use of synthesizers and the Dead’s experimental sound made him dream of using a computer to create music. “Not in my lifetime,” he thought.

Fast forward to the new millennium, where computers are ubiquitous and anyone with one can create the next musical masterpiece. His first project was a laser harp. He was inspired by one he had seen at a music festival around 2002, and only needed his son’s seventh grade science fair to be convinced to build one. The design featured a laser shining on a photoresistor, similar to what is seen in garage door systems. The first version featured a single green laser split by biology slide glass, a breadboard (housed in an attaché case), and a Midi PCB. On the software side, he relied on Pure Data and Maize Studio.

He completed the current iteration of the laser harp in 2011. It features 16 red lasers set in a wooden dowel. He moved to use an Arduino Duemilanove and a custom PCB Header. The concept is simple: by breaking a beam, something is triggered. In this case it can be a loop, note, or even an entire scale. The device is best used with multiple people, with each beam creating a unique sound. The collective group effort creates a unique experience each time.

The next step on the journey to Dance Floor 64 involves the open-source Monome project. He began building examples of the multipurpose minimalist controllers for use with his projects. He uses them for audio effects and looped samples.

Enter Dance Floor 64. The concept is simple: take a Monome controller, add lights, and use feet instead of fingers. The design consists of an 8×8 grid of 64 one square foot tiles. Lighting comes from stick-on LED strips; 18 UV and 60 RGB LEDs per tile. Pressure sensing technology came from the unlikeliest of places: a 12 year-old’s DIY project posted on YouTube. The design consists conductive foam sandwiched between strips of copper tape, a super-resilient silicon foam as a “spring,” and Plexiglas “plungers” on either side of the tile. For signal processing, he utilizes an Arduino Mega LED Control, and laptop based Java “router” maps developed by his son.

The presentation concluded with an intimate question and answer session and Professor Soules demonstrating use of the tile. Grabschied is enthused at the existence of M5, and called on the community for help. He urged any students interested in completing Dance Floor 64, resurrecting the digital marimba, building a laser auto harp, and designing an effects controller to contact him.