Now that’s a bright idea

The Senior Design Showcase this spring featured innovative projects from 21 student teams, but the project that really shined (literally) was the 3-D LED display designed by four enterprising seniors.

The Senior Capstone project gives seniors a chance to demonstrate everything they’ve learned inside and outside the classroom throughout their college career. Seniors exhibit their team projects during the Senior Design Showcase, which took place on April 8 this year.

“They become more confident in their ability to tackle problems that arise and to provide good solutions to them,” says Dr. Khalid Al-Olimat, professor of electrical and computer engineering and chair of the ECCS department.

One team wanted to leave something behind to motivate the next class of students in the electrical and computer engineering and computer science (ECCS) department. What better than a display that features 4,096 individual LEDs that can be programmed to display shapes, letters and animation?

“Dr. Al-Olimat really wanted something the ECCS department could use to represent itself,” says Steve Maag, BSEE ’14. “Our capstone will stay here at ONU and represent the skills that students can learn here.”

The ECCS program can sometimes be at a disadvantage, because their projects – computer programs and advance circuitry – are more nuanced and often not as visually as appealing as a concrete canoe or Baja SAE car. But the LED display – which featured a pulsating, multi-colored, three-dimensional light show choreographed to rock music – captured everyone’s attention.

The elegance of the animation belies the sheer complexity hidden beneath the display. To send the necessary signals to the 4,096 LEDs, more than 1,500 feet of wire is plugged into breadboards, or solderless circuit boards, with more connections tying the breadboards together and connecting everything to the computer controllers that interpret the software commands.

The complex project tested the students’ grasp of the full scope of the engineering curriculum. They applied the skills they’d learned, taught themselves new ones, and practiced the most important one of all: teamwork.