American Society of Engineering Education - North Central Section Spring Conference 2018

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A Sensor Application Design Project for Mechanical Engineers

The “ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data” is an essential component of engineering education, as incorporated into ABET Criteria 3. In the author’s department, this criterion is met in part by a junior-level course in Experimental Methods. Providing opportunities in this course for students to conduct experiments and evaluate the resulting data is relatively straightforward using traditional data acquisition systems and software. However, enabling students to design their own experiments has been hindered by the high cost of the industry- or research-level equipment currently used in this course. Since equipment selection is a critical aspect of experimental design, requiring students to use the limited range of available sensors essentially removes this aspect of the design process.

The advent of low-cost sensors for open-source, education-oriented microprocessor systems such as the Arduino and Raspberry Pi has opened up new opportunities for teaching experimental methods to mechanical engineering students. This paper discusses the initial implementation of a class project which requires students to develop a practical application for such a sensor. Working in teams, the students were asked to identify at least one potential application for each of five sensors specified by the instructor. After applying a systematic decision-making process, each team developed one application in greater detail, including a discussion of the NABC (Need, Application, Benefit, Cost) evaluation approach. Although limited by time, resources, and instructor knowledge, the initial results were encouraging. A number of lessons were learned which should make the second iteration of the project even more effective.

David Sawyers
Ohio Northern University
United States


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