May 10, 2012

Engineering team finishes in top six in Cornell Cup

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale students engineered their way to a high finish last week at a 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, and April Peterson, a 2010 graduate in civil and environmental engineering, received an honorable mention as one of the top six teams in the Cornell Cup USA national competition. The team received word after competing May 4 and 5 in Orlando, Fla.

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 the two-day summit event in May at Walt Disney World.  There, finalist team members attended talks, networked with leading engineering company sponsors, and demonstrated their entries.

The SIU Carbondale team, known as Team Hot Dawgs, in October was named a finalist and placed among the top 22 teams in the country.  As a finalist, the team received funding and equipment to help make its designs into reality and develop the project.

The team 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. The basic premise is to intelligently use programmable thermostats to regulate each room temperature depending on the usage of the space.

The team successfully built and tested a prototype smart zoning HVAC system and successfully demonstrated the concept, its functionality and potential.

With its top-six finish, the SIU Carbondale bested teams from other universities including the University of California-Berkeley, Georgia Institute of Technology, Columbia University and Purdue University. 

Student members of the SIU Carbondale team were:

            • Todd Peterson, project leader and a senior in computer engineering and aviation technology from Rock Island

            • Nick Musick, a senior in electrical engineering from Eureka

            • Lisa Dohn, a senior in computer engineering from Rolling Meadows

            • Kathy Grimes, a senior in electrical engineering from Bloomington

Local contractors Keith Weber and Al Gordon also assisted the team in building a scale model to test their project while research shop Supervisor Greg Moroz assisted the team in manufacturing.