Day: April 24, 2017

FWF: Mobility @ Tech

FWF-image-2-20170424 The first part of this FWF double feature almost didn’t get written because there were so many events and activities in the ECE Department that I had to attend to. This second part almost didn’t get written because I was lying in bed binge-watching Season 3 of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”. This highly entertaining and astonishingly vulgar parody of start-ups in “the valley” is LOL funny, especially for electrical and computer types like us. I am not certain that all the counter-culture stereotypes and situations bear full resemblance to reality, but I do have to imagine that there is a seamy underbelly to the tech innovation culture that is usually held up as the paragon of realized human potential, even in this very blog. Season 4 starts this week!

But, back to matters closer to home. The highlight of this past week at Michigan Tech, from my point of view, was a half-day event held on Thursday in the lobby of the Rozsa Center called the “Mobility Summit.” This was an event that came together after discussions earlier in the semester involving Adrienne Minerick, Associate Dean for Research and Innovation in the College of Engineering, Pasi Lautala, faculty member in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute, and yours truly. I have to admit, I wasn’t very much help once the ball got rolling, but Adrienne and Pasi did a fabulous job and I would consider it a big success.

“Mobility” is the new buzzword that describes everything having to do with the movement of people and things. It includes vehicles of all different kinds, transportation infrastructure, transportation automation including autonomous vehicles and vehicular communication networks, human factors and human-machine interfaces, and all the changes in society resulting from disruption in ride-sharing, alternative vehicle ownership models, and public transportation. This entire field is very important to the state of Michigan, due to our history in the automobile industry, our existing strong talent base in engineering, and our desire to leverage our advantage to remain a world leader in all things having to do with transportation. There are many people downstate in government and industry who see mobility as the key to economic development, and re-development, in our state and in the region, and I would agree with them.

Because mobility is important to the state of Michigan, it is important to Michigan Tech. Several of us decided that it would be a good idea to start pulling together all the expertise across campus, just to get a better sense of how much we actually have going on. There are two compelling reasons to do this, one internal and one external. The internal reason is that we all need to be aware of what our colleagues in other departments are doing, so that we can look for synergies and perhaps begin to develop a unified vision. The external reason is, if Michigan Tech really does have a strong collective presence in mobility, then we need to brand it and make sure the whole world knows about it.

The good news is that Michigan Tech really does have a lot to offer in mobility, and this became abundantly clear at the Summit on Thursday. The centerpiece of the Summit was a series of short (like 2-minute) presentations by some 18 researchers from 6 different departments, followed by a poster session where people could follow up with focused one-on-one technical conversations. The departments that got the most exposure were Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Civil and Environmental Engineering, but it was surprising to see the level of activity in other corners of campus as well. In this sense the primary objective of the Summit was met. I found that our biggest strengths are in controls and communications, and the expertise in those areas is absolutely not limited to one department.

In addition to us talking to ourselves, we had two distinguished visitors with two stimulating keynote addresses: Paul Rogers, Director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren, Michigan, and Kirk Steudle, Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Both spent the bulk of their time talking about the development of autonomous vehicle technology. From Dr. Rogers we learned that the Army has been working on military autonomous vehicles for quite a while, and developing technologies that may have an impact on the development of commercial autonomous vehicles. From Dr. Steudle we learned that Michigan is ahead of the curve, legislatively speaking, in creating the environment for the development of autonomous vehicles, particular with regard to testing on public roads. Both speakers advocated a stronger and more visible role for Michigan Tech in mobility, and offered advice on how we might get there.

The main takeaways for me were 1) yes, Michigan Tech has a lot to offer the state in mobility, and 2) yes, we will need to work together across campus to develop a comprehensive strategy, both for collaboration and for branding. The third takeaway is more specific to the ECE Department, and which is in the eye of the storm when it comes to moving autonomous technology forward. Dr. Rogers said it best, perhaps unintentionally, when he presented a slide showing where the breakthroughs are needed to make autonomous vehicles a reality. The slide included things like artificial intelligence, big data, radar, lidar, image processing, communication networks – in fact, every single thing he showed comes from the worlds of electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science. Powertrain engineering was conspicuously absent from the discussion. Granted, there is a lot of powertrain work to be done if the transition to all-electric vehicles happens at the same time as the transition to autonomous vehicles, but even there, there is plenty of work for electrical engineers. My point here is that while across-campus collaboration can and must happen if Michigan Tech is to be seen as a major player in mobility, the center of gravity for mobility research and development must shift at the same time. I am happy to help make that happen, as best I can.

This coming week is Final Weeks at Michigan Tech, and commencement happens on Saturday. It is an exciting, wonderful time (commencement, not finals) and you will read all about it here. Stay tuned.

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


FWF: News from Week 13

Casey Strom, 2017 Carl J. Schjonberg Award for Outstanding ECE Undergraduate Student, along with his wife Becky
Casey Strom, 2017 Carl J. Schjonberg Award for Outstanding ECE Undergraduate Student, along with his wife Becky

Welcome to a special double feature edition of FWF. I am playing catch-up this weekend, in my attempts to write one column per week, not always successful. This is the busiest time of the year at Michigan Tech, so there is plenty to write about, but sometimes doing stuff gets in the way of writing about it.

The week of April 10-14 is “Week 13” in the spring academic calendar. In the ECE Department, this is when the students wrap up their Senior Design and Enterprise projects and make their final presentations, on Thursday. Simultaneously, the ECE External Advisory Committee (EAC) is in town, from Wednesday afternoon to Friday noon. The timing of the EAC visit is no coincidence, as their primary mission in the spring meeting is help us judge the student presentations. The entire ECE faculty gets into the act as well, sitting in on the presentations and offering their feedback. For all of Thursday morning, from 8am to 1pm, we listened to student teams of 4-6 describe their various projects. Collectively we watched 26 different presentations spread out over 5 time slots and 6 venues.

My overall impression this year is that the presentations were quite good; there seems to be a gradual improvement in the quality of the oral communication skills and the level of comfort our students have with public speaking. If I were to have a concern, it would be that I wonder if we are doing enough to challenge our students with the electrical and computer engineering technical content. All of our Senior Design projects are industry-sponsored, and many of the Enterprise projects are as well. We are of course very proud of our relationships with our industry partners, and seek to do everything we can to ensure that they get the value they seek from supporting our educational programs. The trick is making sure that those needs include tough, interesting, electrical/computer engineering problems that require a concerted effort for several months on the part of our students to find a viable solution. The EAC echoed these concerns in our debriefing session on Friday, and it is something we will be taking a close look at next year.

As is to be expected there is a range of quality in the student projects, and the best ones are absolutely outstanding. Each year the EAC awards the Larry Kennedy Industry Innovation Award to the project they deem to be the very best. The award is named in honor of our recent EAC chair who was taken from us suddenly by a heart attack, two years ago, at a far too young age. This year’s award goes to the project titled “Surgical High Speed Drill Rotor Position via CAN bus” sponsored by the Stryker Corporation. Stryker is a medical device and equipment company headquartered in SW Michigan; this is their first Senior Design project in the ECE Department. The ECE faculty advisor is Trever Hassell and the Stryker point of contact is Keith Behnke, whom we also welcome to the EAC this year. The students on the team are Dan Bragg, Elliott Meese, Julio Saint-Felix Rodriguez, Hailey Trossen, and Yuguang Wang. My congratulations to everyone involved in the project – in terms of the scope of the project and the quality of the execution this is exactly what we hope for every year.

Senior Design Team 6 (Stryker) L-R: Julio Saint-Felix Rodriguez, Hailey Trossen, Elliott Meese, and advisor Trever Hassell. Missing from photo: Dan Bragg and Yuguang Wang
Senior Design Team 6 (Stryker) L-R: Julio Saint-Felix Rodriguez, Hailey Trossen, Elliott Meese, and advisor Trever Hassell. Missing from photo: Dan Bragg and Yuguang Wang

The award for best capstone project is just one of several awards given out at our Senior Banquet, which occurred the evening of Thursday, April 13, with student, faculty, and EAC members in attendance.

This year for the first time we recognized the many undergraduate students who serve the ECE Department in various capacities, some paid and some volunteer. These include participating in Fall Open House and Spring Preview days, telephone calling campaigns for student recruiting, departmental tours, and our Undergraduate Advisory Board. Some 18 students were presented with certificates. This community service by our students is highly valued and greatly appreciated by the department, and the recognition is long overdue. I plan to continue doing this at the Senior Banquet from here on out.

Recognition of Service to ECE
Recognition of Service to ECE

The Departmental Scholar Award is our departmental nominee for the Provost’s Award for Scholarship, given to a student who will be senior ranked in the following academic year, and who represents the very best in scholarship and leadership at Michigan Tech. The ECE Departmental Scholar for the 2016-2017 academic year is Sarah Wade, a double major in electrical engineering and computer engineering with an outstanding academic record and long list of extracurricular activities including being on the Nordic ski team. Sarah is a member of the Aerospace Enterprise, hosted in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics and is making significant contributions there as a systems engineering and technical lead. Many of our award-winning students over the years have been associated with the Aerospace Enterprise so they must be doing something right over there. Like all but one of the Departmental Scholars at Michigan Tech, Sarah did not win the Provost’s Award, but the competition was stiff and we were proud to have her represent ECE.

Sarah Wade, 2017 ECE Departmental Scholar
Sarah Wade, 2017 ECE Departmental Scholar

The Woman of Promise Award was created by the Presidential Council of Alumnae, an advisory group to President Mroz. It is intended to recognize those women at Michigan Tech who go “above and beyond” what is expected in terms of being a well-rounded student, with considerations of academic achievement, campus leadership, citizenship, and creativity. This year the ECE Department had such outstanding nominees that we decided to give two Woman of Promise Awards. The first went to Jenna Burns, a high-achieving electrical engineering major with a minor in Spanish, who also is a percussion section leader in the Pep Band, and who has really distinguished herself in service to the ECE Department. Our second Woman of Promise is Elizabeth “Libbey” Held, a double major in electrical and computer engineering, a minor in Spanish (is there a theme here?), and a near-perfect GPA. Libby was cited by several faculty members as someone who asks the most insightful questions in class and during office hours. My congratulations to both Jenna and Libbey. Both have a year to go, so I say keep up the good work!

Jenna Burns, 2017 ECE Woman of Promise
Jenna Burns, 2017 ECE Woman of Promise

Elizabeth (Libbey) Held, 2017 ECE Woman of Promise
Elizabeth (Libbey) Held, 2017 ECE Woman of Promise

Our top student achievement award is the Carl S. Schjonberg Award for the Outstanding Undergraduate Student in the ECE Department. This year’s award choice was in my opinion a slam-dunk and I made that opinion known during our faculty deliberations, which I usually stay out of. Casey Strom is a truly remarkable individual. He is what we would call a “non-traditional” student, meaning that he comes to our program with a fair amount of life experience already under his belt. He lives and works on a family farm in Calumet, has a large family already, and had his own surveying business at the time of his coming into the department. In spite of all these demands on his time, he completes all of his coursework in the ECE Department with near-perfect attendance, all homeworks completed on time, and many exams close to 100%. This guy is motivated like you wouldn’t believe, and on top of that he has the most cheerful can-do demeanor of any student I have ever met. Casey, you represent the best of everything we try to do in the ECE Department and I couldn’t be prouder to call you a Michigan Tech graduate.

Casey Strom, 2017 Carl J. Schjonberg Award for Outstanding ECE Undergraduate Student
Casey Strom, 2017 Carl J. Schjonberg Award for Outstanding ECE Undergraduate Student

The final award of the evening at the Senior Banquet is presented by the students in Eta Kappa Nu to their selection for the Professor of the Year. This year’s award goes to Duane Bucheger. Duane is our Professor of Practice who runs the Senior Design program and teaches courses in design fundamentals, electric circuits, and electronics. He has been in this position for six years, and during that time he has done an outstanding job of building up our space and equipment devoted to Senior Design on the 7th floor of the EERC. As anyone in the ECE Department can tell you, Duane is a strong and vocal advocate for making sure students are aware of what will be expected of them in industry, and for preparing them to enter that world. I am delighted to see the Eta Kappa Nu students recognize Prof. Bucheger for his efforts on their behalf; I think it is a fitting tribute for all his hard work. For a variety of reasons and by mutual agreement, Duane will be stepping down from this position at the end of the academic year. We wish him all the best and thank him for his many contributions to the ECE Department.

Duane Bucheger, HKN Professor of the Year, presented by Libbey Held
Duane Bucheger, HKN Professor of the Year, presented by Libbey Held

All of that was almost two weeks ago! One more post and I will be caught up – and maybe the snow will be gone.

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University