Design Day: The Next Big Thing, 100 Times Over
Senior engineering projects for 2017 include an exoskeleton to help a student walk, tree-pollinating drones and drone destroyers, and a robotic umpire who can't be disputed.

By Jill Goetz, UA College of Engineering
April 25, 2017

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Jason Keatseangsilp  is part of a team of six UA seniors that built an unpowered exoskeleton for Jeffrey Bristol , a UA junior in accounting who has cerebral palsy.
Jason Keatseangsilp is part of a team of six UA seniors that built an unpowered exoskeleton for Jeffrey Bristol , a UA junior in accounting who has cerebral palsy. (left)

Engineering affects virtually every aspect of our lives, and at the University of Arizona's Engineering Design Day on May 1, more than 500 students intend to prove it.

"Engineering Design Day is our biggest event — there's nothing else like it," said Jeff Goldberg, dean of the College of Engineering. "It is the ultimate proving ground for our students and a unique opportunity for employers to see on a grand scale what our students, with industry and faculty partners, can achieve."

People of all interests, abilities and ages will marvel at the 100-plus tools and technologies to improve health, safety and national security; boost cost- and energy-efficiency and worker productivity; mine big data and manage big mines; strengthen and secure communication networks; and make faster, lighter and smarter planes, trains, self-driving cars and rockets. Some projects are designed to save lives, others to save time and money. 

The public is invited to see the displays in the Student Union Memorial Center Grand Ballroom and on the UA Mall from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., and to attend the awards ceremony in the ballroom from 4 to 5:30 p.m., when industry sponsors will present more than $25,000 in cash prizes to project teams.

Now in its 15th year, Design Day is the culmination of the college's Engineering Design Program, in which teams of five or six students spend an entire academic year taking sponsors' projects from concept to reality.

Many of the students receive job offers from sponsors. Some projects result in patents assigned to sponsors, and some of the prototypes go on to become products and services used around the globe.

This year's 90-plus sponsors include Raytheon, Honeywell, Texas Instruments, Caterpillar, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble, as well as more than a dozen UA faculty. Public and government agencies sponsoring projects range from NASA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to Salt River Project and the city of Bisbee.

Three Strikes and …

A robotic softball umpire making its debut at Design Day features the laser-sharp accuracy of lidar, a pulsed laser used to measure distances, and LED technology in calling strikes.

In pro baseball, radar and camera technologies produce the graphics viewers see on TV screens showing a ball's position relative to the strike zone after a pitch. But the systems are mostly used for in-game and postgame analysis, said Jeffrey Thomas Bragg, a senior in engineering management and team leader. RoboUmp can be easily installed in the field without interrupting players and be used during games. The system is designed to make a call live, within one second of a pitch.

The team of five seniors — with the others majoring in systems, electrical and optical sciences engineering — plans to demonstrate RoboUmp's skills, but only to a degree.

"The ball will not be flying at high speeds around the ballroom!" Bragg promised.

Danielle Craig, a 2011 graduate in mechanical engineering and a mentor to the team, is a rotors design engineer with Boeing, which is sponsoring the project. She is one of the many UA engineering alumni who help make Design Day possible by serving as mentors and judges.

"The scope of senior design projects submitted by industry becomes more challenging every year, and the students at the University of Arizona consistently exceed expectations," Craig said. "Boeing looks forward to seeing the final deliverable from our team and all the teams."

Walk This Way

Sponsors pitch their projects to engineering design students each year in late summer at the program's open house. Hermelinda Bristol was there with her family, recruiting UA students to build an unpowered exoskeleton for her son Jeffrey, a UA junior in accounting who has cerebral palsy.

Jason Keatseangsilp was the first person in line.

"One of the reasons I chose biomedical engineering was so I could get into rehabilitative engineering," said the team leader for the unpowered exoskeleton project. "I raced through the doors, and I'm really glad I did because it turned out to be one of the longest lines. This project has a lot of heart."

Six seniors in biomedical, materials science and mechanical engineering are fabricating the exoskeleton with an aluminum frame for Jeffrey's legs and feet and a plastic brace made with a 3-D printer for his waist and lower back. The device will help him, and perhaps others with cerebral palsy, stay upright while exercising the muscles needed to walk.

"Jeffrey has trouble walking, but he can walk on his own and doesn't need a powered device like I do," said Keatseangsilp, who has a spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair. "We're really trying to create a device that will engage Jeffrey's key anatomical features — for example, by giving him good core stability and facilitating a normal gait pattern."

The exoskeleton is one of 22 Design Day projects with biomedical applications. Others include a mobile quarantine unit for isolating and transporting people exposed to infectious viruses and a neighborhood external defibrillator network for treating heart attacks.

Doing More Good on Land, Air and Sea — and Beyond

Other Design Day projects to be displayed include:

• A launcher for a lifesaving EMILY rescue buoy, created by an alumnus-founded company

• A drone that pollinates Medjool date palm trees better than insects

• A search-and-destroy system to down dangerous drones

• An augmented-reality employee-training technology for smart factories

• A lightweight antenna for mining haul truck communication 

• A rail system to transport household items up the steep hills of Bisbee, Arizona

• Self-contained pods for growing food and recycling water off-grid

• A wastewater-purification system for the International Space Station

Extra info


2017 Engineering Design Day


Student Union Memorial Center Grand Ballroom and UA Mall


11 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. May 1

Details about 2017 projects, participants and prizes are available on the Design Day app, which can be downloaded from the App Store for iOS devices and from the Google Play Store for Android devices. The app can be found in both stores by searching for UA Engineering Design.