November 18, 2011

‘Hot Dawgs’ team a finalist in engineering contest

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A team of students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale is among the top finalists in an engineering contest open to all colleges and universities in the United States.

The team, advised by Haibo Wang and Ning Weng, both associate professors of electrical and computer engineering, recently received word that it had moved into the top 20 at the Cornell Cup USA competition for its innovative temperature control system designed for homes of the present and future. 

The Cornell Cup USA, presented by Intel, is aimed at motivating students to create newer and better embedded technology designs.  Embedded technology refers to environments that use embedded microprocessors to control systems and provide feedback. It also involves the design, size and weight of such microprocessors, which may be critical based on their intended application.

The competition, in its inaugural year, also gives student team members the opportunity to strengthen their resumes and demonstrate their professional design skills, which companies want. Students also must find ways to go from the proverbial drawing board to reality.

The competition lasts an entire academic year, culminating in a two-day summit event in May at Walt Disney World.  There, finalist teams will attend talks, network with leading engineering company sponsors, and demonstrate their entries.

The SIU Carbondale team made it through the application round, with judges selecting the “Hot Dawgs’” project as finalist.  As a finalist, the team received funding and equipment to help make its designs into reality and develop their entries. Ultimately, the top three entries will win prizes of $10,000, $5,000 and $2,500, respectively.  Sponsors also will offer other special design awards.

The Hot Dawgs set out to tackle an issue that represents almost half of the monthly energy usage in a typical house: heating and cooling it.  The team’s project sought to enhance the typical programmable thermostat, which is comprised of only one sensor at the thermostat’s location, with a network of sensors located throughout the home.

Using an Intel Atom processor and circuit board, the team proposed a system that monitors temperature in multiple locations throughout the home, using the data gathered to adjust vents in each room to promote optimal heating or cooling everywhere.

“Our goals are to reduce the cost of heating and cooling a house, to make this system in such a way that it can be retrofitted into existing houses, which would benefit the most, and to provide an easy to use user interface,” team members wrote in their proposal summary.

Wang said the national nature of the competition and the elite company in which the SIU Carbondale team finds itself reflects its talent and the University’s strengths.

“Since this is a national competition open to all universities in the U.S. and only 20 winning teams are selected, it is a clear indication of the competitiveness of our students as well as the engineering education at SIU Carbondale,” Wang said.  “I sensed that the students in the team are highly self-motivated and I hope that they win the final grand prize in Disney World.”

Todd Peterson, the team’s student project manager, said the Hot Dawgs registered for the competition in September and began work immediately, submitting its proposal Oct. 12. Team members recently learned they were among the contest finalists and a member of the top 20.

“What is innovative about our design is that it is designed with the idea of installation in any existing house, as well as future houses,” said Peterson, a senior in computer engineering and aviation technology from Rock Island.  “It is also innovative in the idea of monitoring temperatures in every room, and making decisions for the heating and cooling system based on these multiple inputs instead of the standard single input of most systems.  We are also innovating the ability to control vents in individual rooms to allow for optimized heating and cooling.”

Peterson said the competition was "Briefly, awesome.

“As a student to compete on the national level is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  The caliber of the schools in the competition reflects on the team for being selected among them,” he said.

Lisa Dohn, a senior in computer engineering from Rolling Meadows, said the competition is a great way to finish her studies.

"It is an incredible ending to my college career,” Dohn said.  “This competition means that I will gain hands-on engineering design experience, in addition to learning more about a system that I didn't know much about before.”

Nick Musick, a senior in electrical engineering from Eureka, said the competition is a great opportunity.

“It is a chance to compete against the best engineering in the nation, to show that we can throw down with the best of them,” Musick said.

The team’s fourth student member, Kathy Grimes, a senior in electrical engineering from Bloomington, said she gained valuable experience.

“This competition is a way to gain more experience in the design process and to give our group a chance to showcase a finished real-world project,” Grimes said.