Engineering Design Day: Bigger, Better and Smarter on Display
UA senior capstone design projects for 2016 range from sea rescue robots and self-driving cars to heart defibrillators and water recycling systems.

By Jill Goetz, UA College of Engineering
April 20, 2016


Hydronalix engineers launch EMILY rescue robots in a simulated rescue mission. Two UA student teams are working on refining the remotely operated rescue boat that has made headlines for saving refugees from drowning off the coast of Greece.
Hydronalix engineers launch EMILY rescue robots in a simulated rescue mission. Two UA student teams are working on refining the remotely operated rescue boat that has made headlines for saving refugees from drowning off the coast of Greece. (Photo courtesy of Hydronalix)

For the 500 engineering seniors competing in the 14th Engineering Design Day at the University of Arizona, the stakes are high.

Dream job offers and hefty cash prizes may ride on how well their teams and projects perform. If their projects become commercial products, the stakes could be higher still, in terms of cost reductions, global sustainability and improved quality of life.

"This is the day we show the world how engineers improve quality of life by designing solutions to societal problems," said College of Engineering Dean Jeff Goldberg. "It is the ultimate proving ground for our students, and an unparalleled opportunity for employers and the community to see what our students, with industry partners, can achieve."

The public is invited to attend Design Day 2016 on May 3 on the UA campus. Projects will be displayed in the Student Union Memorial Center Grand Ballroom and on the UA Mall. More than 100 engineering professionals from companies across the nation will evaluate the projects and pick the winners of industry-sponsored prizes totaling almost $20,000.

Design Day is part of the College of Engineering’s Interdisciplinary Engineering Design Program, in which teams of five to six students spend an entire year taking proposed projects from concept to reality. This year, three sponsors are planning to obtain patents on work the students have produced.

High-Tech Buoys, Low-Tech Bikes

Participating students have spent the fall and spring semesters working with sponsors and mentors, including many UA alumni, to design, build and test the 99 projects they will present.

Twenty-one projects have potential biomedical applications. They include a lung-on-a-chip, a nerve stimulator to reduce spasticity in people with spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, safer nasogastric tubing and simulated human tissue created by 3-D printing.

Two teams are working on a portable external cardiac defibrillator.

According to the American Heart Association, more than 300,000 people in the United States experience sudden and unexpected cardiac arrest outside hospitals each year. Unaided, only one in 10 survives. But when bystanders can treat the victims with a defibrillator, one in three may survive — and recover. 

"We want to make the first small, affordable and personal defibrillator that people can put in their pockets and easily carry with them," said cardiologist Dr. Carter Newton, founder of CardioSpark, the company sponsoring the projects. UA students are helping Newton not only with designing and building the prototype, but with proof of concept and marketing plans.

Other projects are geared for smoother and safer travel on land, air and water: back-up cameras to help taxiing airplanes avoid causing damage on the runway, airplane smoke detectors, moisture-controlled spacesuits to help astronauts breathe easier and navigational systems for self-driving cars.

Two teams are working on refining the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, or EMILY, a high-tech, remotely operated rescue boat and buoy that has made headlines for saving refugees from drowning off the coast of Greece. It can reach distressed people at sea six times faster than a human lifeguard, serve as a flotation device for up to six and operate in severe weather that would make traditional rescue operations impossible.

One team has built a canister and launcher so rescue crews don’t have to manually lift and launch the 25-pound robot into the water. The other has built a sonar module so EMILY can locate and track people even more precisely. 

EMILY was created by Hydronalix, an award-winning company founded by UA engineering alumnus Tony Mulligan. Hydronalix senior engineer Daniel Okiyama, another alumnus, is mentoring the UA teams.

Not all Design Day 2016 projects fall in the high-tech category. A team of systems, mechanical and electrical and computer engineering students sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers has built a 100 percent human-powered vehicle. They plan to take their invention, resembling a recumbent bicycle, to San Jose, California, to compete in the ASME Human-Powered Vehicle Challenge West shortly before Design Day.  

More than 20 teams will present environmentally sustainable solutions for a wide range of problems in industry and society.

Projects with sustainability themes include a lithium carbonate production plant to make batteries for hybrid electric vehicles, converting algae into biofuel, temperature testing and cooling for deeply buried gas pipes, wastewater recycling for dairy processing, a solar-powered whiskey still and a system for converting waste cooking oil from UA campus restaurants into biodiesel for UA vehicles.

New Sponsors This Year

In addition to its longtime supporters in the manufacturing, defense, biomedical and utility sectors, the UA Engineering Design Program has gained several new sponsors, from local startups to household names. Along with CardioSpark and Hydronalix, first-time sponsors in 2016 include Defiiant Technologies, which is developing a wearable virtual reality camera to enhance communication on social media; Shamrock Foods; and Procter & Gamble.

Extra info


Engineering Design Day 2016


Student Union Memorial Center (Grand Ballroom) and UA Mall


11 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 3

Details about Design Day 2016 and all projects are on the Design Day app, which can be downloaded from the App Store for Apple iOS devices and from the Google Play Store for Android devices.


Resources for the media

Pete Brown

UA College of Engineering