Meeting digital world challenges

Sensor and signal processing workshop strengthens ASU, Tec de Monterrey collaboration

June 27, 2016

The International Sensors, Signal Processing and Communications Workshop, held last month at Arizona State University, brought together government, industry and academic leaders from the United States and Mexico to share new signal/information processing research and identify collaborations that can meet the challenges of an increasingly digital world.

The workshop is a collaborative initiative between the Sensor, Signal and Information Processing (SenSIP) Research Center in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) Center for Electronics and Telecommunications. ITESM Embedded Sensor Circuits Embedded sensor circuits and transceivers from the ITESM Center for Electronics and Telecommunications Laboratory. Download Full Image

“Forecasts for sensor demand are as high as 100 trillion by 2030,” said plenary speaker Stephen Whalley, chief strategy officer, MEMS Industry Group (MIG). “The future Internet of Everything/Things landscape will require deployment of printed electronics, antennas, power sources, transistors and sensors to enable multiple orders of magnitude cost reduction per square meter. Stretchable plastic and thin film substrates and ultimately roll-to-roll printing on paper will serve various application, cost, performance and form factor needs.”

The two-day workshop included presentations from the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, MIG, NXP Semiconductor, Prairie View A&M University and SenSIP and ITESM. SenSIP STEM project partner institutions, Clarkson University and Prairie View A&M University, also participated with presentations and posters.

Maureen Howell, director of research and strategy for GPEC, addressed connecting innovation with research and technology through collaborative consortiums that foster shared revenue returns, and Michael Stanley from NXP provided solutions for machine learning and sensor data analytics.

ASU presentations included insights about competing in international technology markets. Philip Dowd, director of intellectual assets for physical sciences at Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE, the intellectual property management and technology transfer organization for ASU), provided information about filing intellectual property documents with international partners, and John Mitchell, director of corporate engagement, global outreach and extended education, addressed the importance of collaboration to stay competitive amidst fast-paced technological innovation. Joelina Peck, ECEE research advancement manager, addressed setting up international industry-university proposals, and Paola Garcia-Hicks, director of Mexico and Latin America initiatives in the Office of University Affairs, presented an overview of plans for institutional relations with Mexico and, specifically, ITESM.

Framework for future ASU-ITESM initiatives

Andreas Spanias, a professor of electrical engineering and director of SenSIP, which is a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, said the workshop was a valuable opportunity to share insights on new technologies and provide a framework for future collaboration.

“The technology is moving very quickly,” he said. “Workshops like these enable us to expand our abilities to develop digital signal processing techniques for inexpensive, reusable sensors that are critical to advancing medical, energy and mobile communications systems.”

According to Spanias, SenSIP faculty is helping the ITESM Center for Electronics and Communications propose an I/UCRC consortium-like model, comparable to SenSIP, to the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, known as Conacyt. Similar to the NSF in the U.S., Conacyt is in charge of promoting and setting policies for Mexico’s scientific and technological activities, granting scholarships for postgraduate studies and managing programs to encourage industry and private-sector involvement in science and technology research and development.

Since the workshop, a joint ASU-ITESM proposal has been submitted to industry for a project on sensor localization that will support collaboration between professors Cesar Vargas-Rosales, David Muñoz Rodríguez and Rafaela Villalpando Hernández from ITESM and Cihan Tepedelenlioglu and Spanias from ASU. Additional initiatives through which ASU and ITESM may exchange students and faculty have been identified.

The workshop was sponsored in part by the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering, the NSF I/UCRC Program, and the ASU SenSIP Center, with technical co-sponsorship by IEEE Phoenix Chapter.

Additional workshops for industry, government and academics, hosted by ASU in Arizona in November and by ITESM in Monterrey in March, are planned.

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Driven to succeed: ASU Baja off-road team gearing up for strong comeback

June 27, 2016

An appropriate narrative for the Sun Devil Racing Development club’s 2016 season could parallel the story of the central character in the classic Academy Award-winning movie “Rocky.”

In the film, boxer Rocky Balboa gets knocked around throughout the climactic title fight, but keeps rising up and continuing to battle, exhausting the heavyweight champion and fighting him to a near draw. Sun Devil Racing club's BAJA SAE off-road race car ASU Sun Devil Racing Development club members prepare their car for an endurance race at one of the Baja SAE off-road vehicle competitions sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Racing Development Download Full Image

It was sort of like that this year for the Arizona State University students on the Sun Devil Racing team that participated in the three annual international Baja SAE off-road race car competitions — part of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) College Design Series competitions.

There were some debilitating hits taken by their vehicle’s brake and transmission systems. There was a transmission oil leak that incapacitated the car’s gears.

The car took some score-reducing flips and flops on the hilly, bumpy race courses. Part of the suspension system collapsed in one of the races.

Rallying after setbacks

But through it all, like Rocky Balboa, the ASU team kept fighting to get back in every race, earning respectable results in several categories of the competitions against teams from as many as 85 leading college and university engineering programs.

Although major technical difficulties led to a lackluster overall score in the season’s first competition in Tennessee in April, Sun Devil Racing bounced back impressively to rank in 10th place overall in the California event in May — matching the second-highest overall result in the club’s history — and finished strong in several categories in a competition in New York state in June.

They also made it to the design finals in California — the first time ever by an ASU Baja SAE team.

“We’re proud of how the team rallied against all the things that went wrong and kept pressing forward to get the car rolling and keep competing,” said Zachary Yeskey, a senior majoring in automotive systems engineering.

people riding in baja cars

The resilience of off-road vehicles designed and built by students is put the the test on an endurance race on rough, bumpy terrain. Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Racing Development

Put through rigorous tests

The Baja SAE competitions simulate the challenges of real-world engineering projects that involve the kinds of design, planning and manufacturing skills required in introducing a new automotive product to industry and the consumer market.

Teams generate financial support for their project and compete to have their car’s design accepted for manufacture by a fictitious company. There’s also a detailed cost analysis of what teams spend to manufacture their vehicles.

Students must design, build, test, promote and race a vehicle within the parameters of strict technical specifications, performances standards and competition rules.

All the cars — single-seat vehicles with “roll cage” frames of metal tubing, without a full exterior body — are powered by the same 10-horsepower engine, an Intek Model 20 engine supplied by the Briggs & Stratton Corporation.

The cars are put through meticulous safety and brake inspections. They are evaluated for acceleration, traction, suspension and maneuverability. Their strength and design is put to the test in hill climbs, rock crawls or sled pulls, and then for the finale a jarring four-hour endurance race over rough terrain.

Making advances despite problems

The ASU club has a legacy to maintain in these competitions. The school is one of only 10 to send a team to the very first Baja SAE event 40 years ago.

Based at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, Sun Devil Racing — an SAE student chapter — has about 40 members ranging from students in automotive, mechanical, electrical, manufacturing, software and human systems engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering to those majoring in various branches of the sciences, business and information technology. Teams of up to 12 students have traveled to the Baja competitions.

Club leaders are looking for more members, particularly to broaden the range of skill sets they hope will strengthen their team for future competitions.

“We experienced some failure this year, but we made advances, and we now have a lot of members with solid competition experience,” said senior manufacturing engineering major Joshua Patton, a veteran of four years with the club who has had leading roles in the manufacture and design of team cars in recent years.

student welding car

Sun Devil Racing club members gain
valuable engineering experience
by honing modeling, design and
manufacturing skills in their
Baja car workshop.
Photo courtesy of
Sun Devil Racing Development

An indication that the club’s Baja SAE team is on the rise is the attention the crew’s car has attracted at competitions.

“Some of the top teams, like Michigan, RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), Cornell and the California teams, are looking at our car and asking us a lot of questions,” Patton said. “That tells us they consider us to be a strong contender, so we take their interest as a huge compliment. It’s really cool hearing our team get talked about in the same way those teams are.”

Gaining valuable experience

New Sun Devil Racing president Jason Reichel, a sophomore graphic information technology major, said the club is enabling him to “live my passion for off-roading” and to “pick up a lot of skills” beyond what he’s learning in the classroom.

“It’s not just about engineering, but a lot of business, making professional presentations and doing project documentation and management, and coping with problems in competitive situations,” he said.

Automotive engineering major Yeskey, now a senior, began three years ago as a “wrench turner” on the team, then moved up to lead brakes engineer and this year became the lead suspension engineer and a main driver in the competitions.

“I can attest to the insane amount of engineering and automotive design knowledge that comes from being on the Baja team,” he said. “It prepares students for the industry by making them go beyond the theoretical into practical and applied engineering, giving them the experience employers are looking for.”

The other big payoff, he said, is “being able to see something that you built go out and compete against other well-established engineering schools and perform well. It makes all the late nights and ridiculous number of hours put into the club completely worth it.”

Path to jobs and internships

The buzz about the up-and-coming Sun Devil Racing team goes beyond recognition by competitors, said one of the team’s advisers, Rhett Sweeney, an instrument maker and designer for the Polytechnic School labs.

Some of the industry professionals who serve as organizers and volunteers at the Baja SAE events “have been seeking out our team members and actively recruiting them, inviting them to apply for internships or jobs,” Sweeney said.

“Most of these professionals have had roles on Baja teams in the past. They appreciate the dedication, long hours and all of the hard work that it takes to build a Baja car, and they go to these events looking for potential new hires among the 1,000 to 1,200 students who are participating,” he said. “This is what really makes being on a Baja team worth the effort.”

student driving baja car through course

Sun Devil Racing Baja team
members say they’ve learned
important lessons from hurdles
they’ve faced this year, and are
confident about improving their
performance in future competitions.
Photo courtesy of Sun Devil
Racing Development

Building skills for career pursuit

Club member Nick Pascente, a senior mechanical engineering systems major, said he “hit the ground running” when he joined and was soon tasked with fabricating body panels for the Baja car.

“In a short amount of time, I’ve learned so much about the ‘real-life’ engineering cycle, involving design, manufacturing, testing, validation, problem solving, redesign and team building, and many hands-on skills using various manufacturing equipment,” he said. “I’ll take all of these skills with me into my engineering career.”

Pascente was among club members who traveled to each of this year’s Baja SAE events, where he served as one of the team’s presenters in the competition’s design category.

Despite some setbacks, he said, “I’m impressed with what I’ve seen from our team in the past few months, and I see us becoming an even stronger competitor next year.”

Poised to progress toward the top

The club was in rebuilding mode this year, after several of its leaders had graduated in 2015. But members went on a recruiting drive and signed up a sizable number of new members, and "some have become the backbone of the team,” said adviser Sweeney.

“Many of these new members are freshmen or sophomores who will be a part of the team over the next couple of years. So I feel that we are sitting in a great place, and we have a team that can win at these competitions” he said.

Fellow Baja team faculty adviser Jim Contes, a senior lecturer in the Polytechnic School engineering program, asserts that it’s not unrealistic for the club to set its sights on achieving the top ranking among its Baja SAE competitors.

He points to plans to implement an extensive vehicle development process used in the automotive industry, with the goal of making the team more organized and efficient in modeling, building and testing new vehicles and being better prepared for the challenges of competition.

“Getting to the top is going to take twice as much effort, but our team members have the drive and passion it takes to get there,” Contes said, “and they will.”

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering