Donovan O’Donnell and Claudia Lutfallah prepare their automated plant watering system for judging.Donovan O’Donnell and Claudia Lutfallah, second-year electrical engineering students, prepare their automated plant watering system for judging in UWindsor Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ first Electrical Circuit Design Competition.

Circuit design competition gives students hands-on education

Engineers fix problems—even when they’re still in school.

Joshua Jaekel, a second-year electrical engineering student, was speaking with front-line staff from Windsor Regional Hospital when he realized they had a problem he could solve.

“They needed a cheap way to monitor patients, so we created a circuit that can alert staff when someone gets out of bed,” Jaekel said on April 7 during the UWindsor Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) first Electrical Circuit Design Competition.

Jaekel and his teammate Emilio Quaggiotto took turns laying on a mattress to demonstrate how embedded pressure sensors cushioned by sponges notified users when someone was out of bed by turning a light on. The setup cost under $10 and can double as a system that monitors sleep patterns.

“We wanted a project that actually had a purpose and people wanted,” Jaekel added.

Approximately 80 first and second year electrical engineering students were tasked with designing an electrical circuit using at least one 555 timer—an integrated circuit, or chip, that can be used in a variety of timer, pulse generation and oscillator applications. Course supervisor Mitra Mirhassani said the project teaches students how to integrate sensors and electronic components to create systems that perform a variety of functions.

UWindsor’s IEEE and IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) organized the event and judged each project based on student presentations. Eric Parker and Sean Santarossa won the IEEE electronic design title for their shower water pre-heating system. Other projects ranged from guitar tuners, an Atari punk keyboard, a colour organ to an electro-magnetic power generator and toy car.

IEEE WIE’s top female candidate went to Claudia Lutfallah for her automated plant watering system. Lutfallah and Donovan O’Donnell had tiny pots of flowers on hand to show how their project uses moisture sensors to detect dry soil and trigger a pump that waters the plants. O’Donnell said the automated plant watering system doesn’t overwater plants and requires fewer hours of labour, resulting in cost savings and benefits to the environment.

“We need this experience now to aid us in our future careers,” said Lutfallah. “In first semester, I wasn’t sure how all the theory would benefit us in life. This was an eye-opener.”