All posts by ljhitch

Fridays with Fuhrmann: That’s A Wrap

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We have come to the end of another academic year at Michigan Tech. On Saturday, May 5, our spring commencement ceremony was held at the John MacInnes Ice Arena at the Student Development Complex (SDC), and the place was packed to the rafters with all the graduates and their families and well-wishers. I have been through the Michigan Tech spring commencement now nine times, and I enjoy it as much now as I did the first time. I get to sit on the platform with all the university leadership, the Board of Trustees, and my fellow department chairs, and when it is my turn I get to shake the hands of all our graduates from the ECE Department. When one has been doing this for a while, it starts to become apparent how many lives we touch at a place like Michigan Tech. This certainly must have been on the mind of our president Glenn Mroz, who after 14 years on the job is moving back to the faculty and thus this was his last commencement as master of ceremonies. President Mroz is an outstanding leader who always wears his heart on his sleeve, and we love him for it.

This year the numbers of degrees granted to students in the ECE Department, counting August 2017, December 2017, and May 2018 graduation dates, were: BSEE 83, BSCpE 41, MSEE 82, MSCpE 13, PhD EE 7, PhD CpE 2. That’s a total of 124 undergraduates and 104 graduate students. It is interesting to note that the number of graduate degrees is in the same ballpark as the number of undergraduate degrees, a major shift in the departmental culture over the past couple of decades. One of the things that caught my attention in the commencement program was that, for the spring ceremony, we actually had more MSEE graduates (63) than BSEE graduates (57). I have to imagine that is a first for us, and given current enrollment trends we may not see that again for a long time. Of course, because of the difference in the number of student credit hours required for BS vs. MS degrees, our undergraduate enrollment is still much larger than our graduate enrollment. The number of undergraduate degrees is typically around 20% of our undergraduate enrollment, whereas the number of graduate degrees is closer to 50% of our graduate enrollment.

Commencement not only marks the end of the academic year, but also the beginning of summer. The campus empties out and suddenly everything is quiet, for a while at least. The weather has been sunny and beautiful this May, in stark contrast to all the snow we got in April. Lawns have turned green overnight, it seems, and within a week all the trees will be green too. It’s like we go straight from winter to summer.

Summer didn’t really start for me until this past Monday, when I finally wrapped up the report from the Computer and Information Sciences Working Group and turned it over to Provost Jackie Huntoon. We had a number of recommendations, which is what we were asked for, and in broad terms I can report that the Working Group believes Michigan Tech needs to make some bold moves to enhance its visibility and impact in computing. Beyond that I do not want to go into all the details publicly, as the new university leadership should first have the opportunity to go over the report, give us some feedback, and start the process of deciding where the university should go next. I’ll have a few more opinions to share on computing and engineering in the next few weeks, but for now, I am just happy to have that weight lifted off my shoulders.

One of the things we do in the ECE Department during these lulls is take a moment to express our thanks to our highly capable and dedicated staff. Thursday May 17 was an unofficial “staff appreciation day” when several faculty members and I took the staff out to lunch and we enjoyed some time together. The way this comes about every year is that, on the last Wednesday in April, when we are all running around like headless chickens with end-of-year activities, I suddenly remember that it is Administrative Professionals Day. When that happens I ask if we can just put the celebration off until May, and of course everyone says yes. We are truly blessed in the ECE Department to have clerical, advising, and technical staff that do an amazing job individually and also work together really well as a team. It certainly makes my job a lot easier and I am grateful for their service to Michigan Tech and the ECE Department.

So now, on to the summer. The big thing on my to-do list is to prepare for the roll-out of our new online MSEE program focused on signal processing and communications, due to start in September (see FWF 2/23/2018). While Prof. Tim Schulz is working on a new course in Mathematical and Computational Methods in Engineering, I have volunteered to prepare and teach an online version of our course in Digital Signal Processing. Tim and I are both finding that building an online course to contemporary standards is a lot of work, as it requires us to think about delivering technical content in a whole new way. I am hoping one can teach an old dog new tricks, but I am optimistic, even confident. This is a great summer project and I am looking forward to it – along with everything else that one can find to do in the Copper Country.

Have a great summer everyone!

– Dan

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


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Postcard from Yuma

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Earlier this week I had the chance to join Professor Jeremy Bos and the students from Michigan Tech’s team Prometheus Borealis as they participated in the Year 1 competitive events in the GM/SAE AutoDrive Challenge at the GM Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona.

I wrote about the AutoDrive Challenge when it was first announced that Michigan Tech would be one of the participants, a little over a year ago. The competition is jointly sponsored by General Motors (GM) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The concept is to get teams of college students, graduate and undergraduate, to convert a Chevy Bolt into an autonomous vehicle over the three years of the competition, with increasing levels of autonomy and more difficult challenges in each successive year. Unlike most of the SAE collegiate competitions, this competition has little to do with the automotive powertrain; it is focused more on the electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science skills needed to implement the sensors, signal processing, and artificial intelligence to make the car drive itself. To be sure, there are mechanical engineers and other disciplines such as social science represented on the teams as well. It is truly a collaborative effort, consistent with what all our external advisors tell us is the norm in industry today.

There are teams from seven other North American universities in the competition; they are: Michigan State University, Kettering University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto, Texas A&M University, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina A&T State University.

At Michigan Tech the team is hosted in the Robotic Systems Enterprise, one of several multidisciplinary student organizations that serve both an academic and a social function (for more about the Enterprise program see https://www.mtu.edu/enterprise/). The faculty advisors are Prof. Jeremy Bos from the ECE Department and Prof. Darrell Robinette from the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. At last count there were something like 50 students in RSE and the majority of those, but not all, are on the AutoDrive team.

Retrofitting an automobile to make it autonomous is quite an ambitious task. There are sensors mounted all over the vehicle, including a video camera, one or more LIDARS up on the roof, and multiple radar units positioned around the vehicle at bumper level. The video camera typically sees the same scene a human drive would see. LIDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging; essentially these use lasers to measure the distance to anything and everything in the field of view. The radars do the same thing, at radio frequencies; they have longer range and can see through conditions like rain, fog, and snow. Some vehicles use ultrasonic sensors as well. All the sensor outputs are digitized and the data are fed into a powerful computer mounted in the trunk. Multiple computer algorithms process all this data and provide electronic controls for the acceleration, steering, and brakes. Nothing to it, right?

For most of this year, the students have been busy with the concept design for the vehicle – how to mount all the sensors and the computers, and designing the overall software architecture for the computer algorithms. As one might imagine, safety plays a critical role in the design of the algorithms. I wish I could say more about the details of the design, but I have not been close enough to the project to comment with authority (I should let the students write one these columns!) Bottom line, the team has a design and has implemented that design with the sensors (except the radars) and computers installed on the vehicle. It’s actually ready to roll, for certain rudimentary autonomous functionality – an impressive accomplishment for a single year.

So on to Yuma for the competition this week. Yuma, Arizona, is a little town, actually somewhat larger than I expected, in the desert Southwest near where California, Arizona, and Mexico come together. 30 miles outside Yuma, about as remote as one can possibly get, is the Yuma Proving Grounds, a gigantic U.S. Army facility of over 1000 square miles which has on it a large vehicle testing facility run by GM. Although it is not exactly convenient for any of the teams in the competition, 3 hours drive from Phoenix, it has everything that is needed for this competition and is fully operational and available this time of year.

I was only able to join the group on Tuesday, and my only role was to provide moral support and get in the way. I had nothing to offer of a technical nature – although maybe that will change next year when they start to use the radars. On Tuesday, the students made an hour-long presentation on their technical concept design, and underwent a technical and safety inspection of the vehicle. There was also a demonstration of a side project on navigation and mapping, which will be integrated into the vehicle in Years 2 and 3, and a presentation on the social responsibility aspects of autonomous vehicles. I was greatly impressed by everything I saw.

Unfortunately, because of my need to get back home for events leading up to commencement, I was unable to stay in Yuma for the actual autonomous driving events, which happen Wednesday through Friday. Since those events are ongoing as of this writing, I will have to wait until next Friday to report on the overall results of the competition. Preliminary indications I am hearing is that the team is doing extremely well.

I am certain my counterparts at the other university will say the same thing about their teams, but I could not be prouder of this group of Huskies and everything they have accomplished this year. I was even more pleased to see how happy Prof. Bos was with the student performance, since leading this group has been a challenging task and a lot more work than he signed up for. If we can do well, pushing the technology forward, educating the next generation of automotive engineers, and making Michigan Tech look good in the process, it will all be worth it.

Stay tuned for the overall results of the Year 1 competition next week. Also, stay tuned for comments on commencement which is scheduled for Saturday. No doubt it will be memorable, being the last commencement exercises with President Glenn Mroz at the helm.

– Dan

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


Fridays with Fuhrmann: News From Week 13, 2018 Edition

design-expo-bookToday is the last regular day of classes at Michigan Tech for the 2017-2018 academic year. Next week is Finals Week, which then leads into Commencement on Saturday, May 5. How time flies when you are having fun!

This is always a busy time of year for me, although having been in this job for 10 years now I have come to expect it and plan for it. What was a little harder to plan for this year was the added stress of wrapping up the work of the Computing and Information Sciences Working Group, and the launch of our new online MS program in partnership with Keypath Education. Just to top it off I had a mild case of the flu which had me going from one meeting to the next like the walking dead. I’m not complaining though – what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, and I am grateful and energized by having meaningful work to do.

Michigan Tech students, especially graduating seniors, celebrate the last day of classes with a tradition we call the Senior Walk, a pub crawl that makes its way from Hancock to Houghton in the late afternoon and evening. I am on a bit of a Senior Walk myself, on my way to California with my wife to spend time with good friends in the wine country near Healdsburg. It’s a short trip, and I will follow that up by heading to Yuma, Arizona, to offer a little moral support to our students in the GM/SAE AutoDrive Challenge as they put their autonomous vehicle through the Year 1 Competition. I will make it back just in time for some year-end meetings, and of course commencement.

Last week is what we call Week 13 in the academic calendar, the culmination of all our Senior Design and Enterprise projects. We followed our usual schedule, with the student presentations all morning on Thursday, the Design Expo on Thursday afternoon, and the ECE Senior Banquet in the evening. The ECE External Advisory Committee was in town, serving as judges for the projects and presentations. The entire ECE faculty gets in the act too; I ask everyone to sit in on at least two presentations and provide written feedback.

At the Senior Banquet we give out a number of awards to our top students, our top projects, and one special faculty member.

Following a tradition we started last year, we recognized all the student volunteers who help with Fall Open House, Spring Preview Day, departmental tours for prospective high school students, calling campaigns, and similar activities. These students act as ambassadors for Michigan Tech and the ECE Department. They believe in what we are trying to do here with our educational programs, and do an outstanding job of communicating that enthusiasm to others. We are deeply grateful to them for all they do.

L-R: Sarah Wade, Lanna Pirkola, Kyle Ludwig, Stephen Grulke, Derek Gheller, Derek Burrell, Christine Cauley; Missing from photo: Shaun Flynn, Meghan Friske, Mitchell Paris, Max Pletcher, DeShawn Presley, Jake Soter, Jack Swanberg
L-R: Sarah Wade, Lanna Pirkola, Kyle Ludwig, Stephen Grulke, Derek Gheller, Derek Burrell, Christine Cauley; Missing from photo: Shaun Flynn, Meghan Friske, Mitchell Paris, Max Pletcher, DeShawn Presley, Jake Soter, Jack Swanberg

Each year we give three awards to top undergraduate students in the ECE Department. The first is the ECE Departmental Scholar Award. It is given to a student who will have senior status next academic year, and represents the best in student scholarship in the department. The Departmental Scholar is our nomination for the Provost’s Award for Scholarship, a university-wide award that is announced the following Friday. The winner of ECE Departmental Scholar for 2018 is Elizabeth (Liz) Adams. Liz is an electrical engineering major with a departmental GPA of 3.92. She participates in the LEAP program, where she served as a near-peer mentor for students in Engineering Fundamentals 1101, answering students questions and teaching a one-hour lesson each week. Other activities at Michigan Tech include being a member of the Society of Women Engineers, Vice-President of the Fencing Club, and a project manager for Concrete Canoe. Faculty members Mike Roggemann and Kit Cischke both had high praise for Liz’ academic ability and intellectual curiosity.

ECE 2018 Departmental Scholar: Elizabeth (Liz) Adams
ECE 2018 Departmental Scholar: Elizabeth (Liz) Adams

Our second student award is the ECE Woman of Promise. The goal of this program, which is connected to the Presidential Council of Alumnae, is to recognize women at Michigan Tech who go “above and beyond” what is expected of them in terms of being a well-rounded student – those who have demonstrated academic achievement, campus and community leadership, good citizenship, and creativity. This year’s ECE Woman of Promise is Christine Cauley. Christine is an electrical engineering major with a GPA of 3.46. She was nominated by ECE academic advisor Judy Donahue, who writes “Christine is a cheerful ambassador of the ECE Department as she has helped with the Fall Open House department tour. She is a member of the Wireless Communications Enterprise, and is a Project Leader for her team, which worked on a bird-window collision sensor. She is a member of the Blue Key National Honor Society and Co-Chair for the Queens Committee. Christine was a guest speaker for the Michigan Tech’s Fall Open House event. She goes above and beyond, demonstrating campus and community leadership while successfully pursuing the BSEE, and is deserving of the award.”

ECE 2018 Woman of Promise, Martha Sloan Scholarship recipient: Christine Cauley
ECE 2018 Woman of Promise, Martha Sloan Scholarship recipient: Christine Cauley

The third and final student award in the ECE Department is the Carl S. Schjonberg Award for Outstanding Undergraduate in the ECE Department. This award was established to honor a long-time faculty member in the ECE Department and is given to our top student, usually a graduating senior. The Schjonberg Award recipient for this year is Lanna Pirkola. Lanna is a 3rd-year senior with a departmental GPA of 4.0. She plans to graduate in December 2018, in only three and a half years. She has served on the departmental Undergraduate Advisory Board, and is a member of Eta Kappa Nu. She is a recipient of the Michigan Tech Presidential Scholarship of Distinction, and the Air Force Recruiting Service Mathematics and Science Award. She is an absolutely top-rate student who works very very hard and will make us proud when she enters the workforce. Congratulations Lanna!

Carl S. Schjonberg Award: Lanna Pirkola
Carl S. Schjonberg Award: Lanna Pirkola

The ECE External Advisory Committee awards the Larry Kennedy Industry Innovation Award to the top ECE student project, based on the project reports and presentations from earlier in the day. This year the top prize went to the project titled “Medical Device Tool One-Way Communication Emulator” sponsored by Stryker Medical. This is the second year in a row that a Stryker project has taken the top prize, so they certainly must be doing something right to inspire the students and give them something meaty to work on. Congratulations to advisor Trever Hassell and all the students on a job well done.

L-R: advisor Trever Hassell, Kyle Ludwig, Benjamin Schaedig, Morgan English, Justin Evankovich, Charles Lubitz
L-R: advisor Trever Hassell, Kyle Ludwig, Benjamin Schaedig, Morgan English, Justin Evankovich, Charles Lubitz

Although not part of the Senior Banquet festivities on that Thursday evening, this is a good place to mention how the ECE Department fared in the Michigan Tech Design Expo, which is a university-wide event held on Thursday afternoon in the MUB, where students set up posters describing their projects and explain their work to judges and other attendees. For the first time in as long as I can remember, an ECE Department project won the best Senior Design project! The project was “Performance and Protection Characterization of Plug and Play Solar Systems”, sponsored by Consumers Energy. The faculty advisor was Prof. Sumit Paudyal, and the student team was Lauren Clark, Erik Romanski, Gabe Simmering, and Jason Wesley. I couldn’t be more pleased with this result. The ECE project titled “Human Machine Interface (HMI) Anunciator Replacement” took Honorable Mention in the Senior Design Projects, and our Wireless Communication Enterprise, advised by Kit Cischke, took Third Place in the Enterprise category.

The final award for the Senior Banquet is the announcement by the students in Eta Kappa Nu of their choice for Professor of the Year. I am delighted to report that this year the students selected Prof. Sumit Paudyal. Sumit has made a name for himself in the past six years as an outstanding instructor, although that reputation is based primarily on his teaching in graduate courses in the power and energy program. With only a little exposure to our undergraduates through a senior-level power systems course, and his acting as advisor for the project that took the top prize in Design Expo, our undergraduates have immediately recognized what an enormous asset Prof. Paudyal is for the department. In addition to this award, this year Sumit won an NSF CAREER award and is being promoted to the rank of Associate Professor, with tenure. It’s an academic trifecta! On top of all that, Sumit and his wife Saru Bhattarai had their first baby this year! Sometimes the universe just lines everything up in the same direction at the same time. I am delighted for all the good things that are coming Sumit’s way, and proud to call him a member of the Michigan Tech ECE Department.

HKN representative Sandra Cvetanovic presents the Professor of the Year Award to Sumit Paudyal
HKN representative Sandra Cvetanovic presents the Professor of the Year Award to Sumit Paudyal

Next week (probably) – news from Arizona. To all our students – good luck with finals!

– Dan

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


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Michigan Tech’s 10th President

richard-j-koubek-outdoorThis morning at 10am, with just the right amount of drama, suspense, and fanfare, the Michigan Tech Board of Trustees in a special meeting announced the selection of Dr. Richard J. Koubek as the 10th president of the University. Dr. Koubek will take office on July 1, 2018.

Dr. Koubek was introduced at the meeting, which was very well attended as you might imagine, and made a few opening remarks. He and his wife Valerie are on campus today for a quick introduction to the entire university community, spread out over multiple events. I hope he understands there will not be a quiz at the end of the day.

Michigan Tech has a web page announcing the selection, which has lots of good information about the president-elect. See http://www.mtu.edu/president-elect.

Obviously we as a community are just now getting to know Dr. Koubek for the first time. So far I am impressed with his credentials, his accomplishments, and his demeanor. All indications are that this is an outstanding selection; I congratulate and thank the Presidential Search Committee and the Board of Trustees. I am excited and optimistic about the future of this institution – as I always have been.

– Dan

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


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Magic and Daring

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Last weekend, at the tail end of a long trip out west that included both fun and work, I attended the annual meeting of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association, or ECEDHA, in Monterey, California. I spent a highly enjoyable couple of days in meetings and social events with my colleagues from other ECE departments across the country. We compared notes on a wide variety of topics of mutual interest, and thought about ways we can learn from each other about continuous improvement of our organizations and programs.

This year there was a parallel workshop specifically for communicators from ECE departments. Lisa Hitch, the ECE Business Manager and Technical Communications Specialist, attended that workshop. I have asked her to serve as a guest blogger this week and relate her experience. Lisa, take it away! -Dan


Nearly 300 academics, made up of ECE department chairs/heads, deans, faculty, lab managers and graduate students came together this past week in Monterey, CA for the 2018 ECEDHA Annual Conference and Expo. For the first time in its 34 years, those who communicate the messages of their respective ECE departments across the nation were invited to join. Though the titles varied from communications officer, specialist, manager and director, the responsibilities were very much the same – sharing the stories of our faculty, students, and alumni to a wide variety of audiences through many different channels.

We are the story tellers and had come together to sharpen our skills, learn from best practices, and be introduced to a new branding strategy developed by Tailfin Marketing to raise the visibility of the field of ECE to prospective students and the general public. Through the efforts of Catharine June from the University of Michigan and Ashlee Gardner from Georgia Tech, an ECE communicators group (we now like to call our Tribe) was formed.

The group was introduced to a branding toolkit and we were quickly put to the test to develop a poster, within 15 minutes, to promote current research within our departments and present our ideas to the group. At first it seemed a little overwhelming but to all of our relief it was actually quite easy and fun by using the creative framework. And it helps when you have great stories to tell that build on the ECE concepts of “magic, daring and limitless applications.”

It’s ECE’s time to shine and we, as ECE story tellers, are now better prepared to spread the word of the vast opportunities a career in the field can provide.

I’ll wrap up my guest blog post with the following ECE Brand Manifesto courtesy of Tailfin Marketing.

You may think that ECE is magic – and it kind of is.

Because ECE is filled with daring visionaries and bright minds who engage, imagine and invent.

We are the masters of power and energy and light and systems that can turn science fiction into living, breathing science.

We are the force that connects people and technologies with elegant devices that fit in the palm of your hand and colossal systems that are beyond imagination.

We are the spark, the energy, and the catalyst – the generators of ideas, champions of possibility and the fuel for change.

We dream big, bet big, and see it through, because we know it’s our job to help shape a better world for all.

Is that magic? Almost. And we’d love to show you how it works.

Lisa

Lisa Hitch
Business Manager and Technical Communications Specialist
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University


Fridays with Fuhrmann: New Online Program

renderedI am delighted and excited to announce the launch of a new venture in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Tech. In September 2018, the ECE Department, in partnership with the online education support company Keypath Education, will begin delivering a new set of online courses leading to the MSEE degree, with an emphasis in communications and signal processing.

Distance education is not new to the ECE Department. Over 15 years ago, ECE faculty members Bruce Mork and Leonard Bohmann recognized a workforce need in the utility power industry for advanced education in power and energy, and proceeded to create online versions of all our senior and graduate-level in that area. Graduate students with an interest in power and energy could take all the courses they needed for the MSEE degree online. The online courses were offered in tandem with our on-campus courses through lecture capture, at first in dedicated studios and more recently in self-service classrooms. Although enrollment has tailed off in the past couple of years, those courses were very well-received and the program met its objectives. I thank Bruce and Leonard for all their hard work and congratulate them on a job well done.

This new program is something quite different. The world of online education has changed considerably in the past decade, and so have the expectations of our students. In this new program, we are moving away from the lecture capture model, and will use the latest technology and pedagogical theory for distance education to create web-based products that are polished and professional and meet modern production standards. We need help doing that, and this is where Keypath comes in. They will help us create the delivery mechanism for the courses, and in addition they will help with the marketing of the program, the recruiting of new students, and the online tech support for those students once they get in the program. The content of the courses is entirely the responsibility of Michigan Tech faculty, and we will retain all the rights to that intellectual property.

Given my musical inclinations I make the analogy that our traditional methods of classroom teaching are kind of like playing in a bar band. We show up, well-prepared most of the time, and give a performance that can be polished or a little rough on occasion. The most important responsibility is to make sure we are ready on the day of the lecture, even if next week’s lectures aren’t quite ready yet. If we teach the same course year after year, we give the same performance over and over to different audiences, with the material evolving and our understanding of that material deepening over time.

Putting together an online course in today’s market is more akin to going into the recording studio and cutting an album. We need to have a vision for the complete course, from soup to nuts, and the full package needs to be ready to go on Day 1 of the semester. When you go into the studio, you bring the producer and the recording professionals in with you, and it becomes a team effort. The Keypath team will be our producers.

There will be a lot of time spent on course development and all the little pieces that go into the web-based delivery mechanisms. This is going to be new for me, so I can’t even speak with authority about all those delivery mechanisms. I understand that the 60-minute or 90-minute talking head lecture is gone, and instead we will have a series of smaller modules with plenty of opportunity for the students to engage with the material as it is presented. We will also work hard to make sure that all the courses use a common set of online tools and have the same look and feel, so that we present a unified and coherent program that does not put the student on a steep learning curve with every new course, just to learn the mechanics. There are implications for the workload model in the department, as I will have to give credit for time spent developing a new course before it is offered the first time. That is going to be new for us too.

We selected communications and signal processing as a technical sub-area within EE for this new venture, for several reasons. First, this is an area where we anticipate high workforce demand. As we move further and faster into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the era of the Internet of Things, electrical engineers need to know how to acquire digital data, process it, merge it with other data, and design systems that allow for the communication of that data over complex global networks. This need cuts across all industry sectors and all applications of electrical engineering, and is very closely related to robotics, automation, and control which I wrote about in my most recent column. Second, we think the material will lend itself well to online learning, as it is mostly theoretical with the applications either implemented or simulated with computer models. Finally, it turns out just by coincidence that the faculty members in the ECE Department with the most enthusiasm about trying these new methods of course delivery, including Tim Schulz, Mike Roggemann, Glen Archer, and myself, are all in signal processing. It just seemed to make the most sense all the way around.

I won’t go into all the details of the degree program, but I will mention one feature that comes right up front for new students. We have been finding recently a wide disparity in the skill levels in mathematical analysis and computer programming among our incoming MSEE students, and that has created problems for what the instructors can reasonably expect in our more advanced courses. That observation was made independently from the exploration of the new online program, so it was just serendipity that we started thinking about ways to address it at the same time we started the conversations with Keypath. The result is a new course, EE5300 Mathematical and Computational Methods in Engineering, that will be the entry point for the all new students. It is not communications and signal processing per se, but it will provide many of the tools in the toolkit for engineers that work in this area. More importantly, it will ensure that all of our students are on a level playing field as they enter the heart of the program. I think this new course, which still needs to be developed, is critical to the success of the new program and so we will put a lot of time and resources into making sure it is done right. It is the only course in the new program being offered in September 2018 – others will come along in January 2019 and later as the program really gets rolling.

I want to thank all those who have helped to get this venture off the ground, including the ECE Graduate Programs Committee, Dean Wayne Pennington in the College of Engineering, Provost Jackie Huntoon, and of course all of our new best friends at Keypath. I should also mention that a parallel program is being put together in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with an emphasis on structures, and the group conversations with CEE have been helpful as well. No one can say for certain where this will lead, but we are jumping in with both feet. I think it is important for the department, and it is important for Michigan Tech when one considers both our geographical location and the role that we play in economic development for Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and indeed the entire U.S. That’s why I am excited about this – it is a new and hopefully effective way of fulfilling our mission, educating the next generation of engineers and supporting them as they enter the workforce.

I guess a little marketing is in order. For anyone reading this who holds an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering or a related field, and can see value in expanding your skills in communications and signal processing, we would love to have you be a part of this. I can guarantee you all the challenges, rewards, and technical rigor of a Michigan Tech education. With all the new delivery methods on the horizon, that is the one thing that is not going to change.

For more information see Michigan Tech Partners with Keypath Education to Serve Professional Engineers

– Dan

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


Fridays with Fuhrmann: EEs in the Driver’s Seat

FWF-image-20180126Last week I made a short trip down to SW Michigan, to visit some of our industrial partners, and to pay visits to some old friends and new colleagues. It was my first time in that part of the state and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Upon arrival in Grand Rapids, I picked up my rental car which turned out to be a new Volvo station wagon, and I got a quick lesson on where things are headed with autonomous vehicles. When I merged onto the highway and turned on the cruise control, I quickly figured out that it had a feature called “adaptive cruise control.” This is where the vehicle measures the distance to the vehicle in front using radar, and adjusts the speed as necessary to maintain a minimum distance between the two, where the safe following distance depends on the speed. I was familiar with this as I had experienced it once in a rental car about a year ago, on vacation in Colorado. At that time, I did not know quite what was happening and actually thought the cruise control was broken as the car kept slowing down on I-70 with lots of traffic. It was only when I got out on a two-lane highway, with just me and the car in front, that I figured out what was going on, and was amazed at how well it worked. On this latest trip, I felt I was already an old pro at adaptive cruise control, but was amazed all over again when I realized the Volvo was driving itself! This is another new feature called “pilot assist” that uses both video cameras and radar sensors to keep the vehicle in the center of the lane. It was kind of spooky at first when I realized that the steering wheel was moving on its own, ever so slightly, but again it was remarkable how well it worked. This was at night, in good weather and on a clear highway with bright white stripes reflecting my headlights, so it was not a challenging control scenario. Even so, I was impressed at how smooth and steady the vehicle was going right down the middle of the lane. I could even take my hands off the wheel entirely! It would issue a little warning after about 15 seconds, and then I would have to put my hands on the wheel again or just tap it gently to keep the system engaged. I guess it just wanted to be reassured that I was still there.

Adaptive cruise control and pilot assist are examples of what the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) calls Level 2 autonomy. They define 6 different levels of autonomy, from 0 to 5, with 0 being no autonomy whatsoever (i.e. old-fashioned human driving) and 5 being total autonomy in all conditions. Level 2 autonomy includes these kinds of driver assist technologies that can partially take over the accelerator, brakes, and steering for relatively simple tasks, with the expectation that the driver is paying attention at all times. I hope that is a realistic expectation. I have to confess, the pilot assist feature really did make it easier for me to eat lunch in the car. We are not close to Level 5 autonomy yet, but auto manufacturers are making progress at a pretty good clip, and there are optimistic projections on when we might see Level 4 cars on the road. A lot of people are pretty nervous about the prospect of autonomous vehicles. My guess is that we will get used to them not all at once, but rather one feature at a time like in my experience with the rental car. It will come with a pull, not a push: drivers will see how easy it is to use the new-fangled technology and how it makes their lives better, and then they will be demanding more and more.

This is as good a place as any to put in a plug (again) for our Robotics Systems Enterprise. Michigan Tech is one of eight North American universities participating in the GM/SAE AutoDrive Challenge, a collegiate competition in which students will integrate sensors and develop the control algorithms to take an existing vehicle (a Chevy Bolt) and make it autonomous. This is an interesting step for SAE, which has a lot of automotive collegiate competitions; Michigan Tech mechanical engineers participate in several and do very well. In the AutoDrive Challenge, the automotive powertrain is off limits; the students have access electronically only to the accelerator, brakes, and steering, and beyond that it’s all about the sensors and controls. This creates a lot more opportunities for participation by electrical engineers, computer engineers, and computer science students. The Michigan Tech team is hosted in the Robotics System Enterprise, led by ECE faculty member Dr. Jeremy Bos and ME-EM faculty member Dr. Darrell Robinette. I am looking forward to witnessing the Year 1 competition in Yuma, Arizona, at the end of this semester, and I am quite certain you will read about it here.

FWF-image-pic2-20180126My automobile experience was only one of several times on this trip when I was reminded about the opportunities for electrical engineers in the area of controls. The industrial partners I visited confirmed for me what I have seen and heard many times before at Career Fair and with our External Advisory Committee, that automation is everywhere and that electrical engineers who have controls expertise are in high demand. This is one of the reasons we took our controls course in the EE curriculum, moved it to the junior level, and made it a required course. This is a good time to be studying electrical engineering and entering the job market, and graduates who can claim some expertise and experience with control systems will find many more doors opening up.

Electrical engineering is a huge field of course, and even within the sub-field of controls there are several flavors. At one end of the spectrum we have industrial control systems, where the tool of choice is the Programmable Logic Controller, or PLC. Such systems are found in factories and other industrial facilities like steel mills and chemical process plants, and in buildings with elevators and air conditioners. Some electrical engineers find that PLCs lack the mathematical complexity that might make them interesting, but as far as I am concerned, anything worth doing is worth doing well. If engineers and engineering students see a need that is addressed with a certain technology, and see challenges and rewards working in that field, then they should be encouraged to do so as long as they do a good job. Michigan Tech has a two-semester PLC course sequence, cross-listed between the ECE Department and the School of Technology, taught in a beautiful new facility that was renovated with gift funds from Nucor Steel.

“Traditional” or “classical” control theory often involves the electrical control of mechanical systems, and so is taught in EE and ME departments, and it shows up in almost all engineering disciplines in one form or another. The typical paradigm involves a “plant” – something to be controlled, like a motor – along with sensors that measure what the plant is doing, and actuators that control its behavior. The sensor outputs are fed into a control algorithm which also has inputs indicating the desired plant behavior, and this in turn determines the actuator signals that tell the plant what to do, creating what is called a “feedback control system.” Understanding how such systems work requires a lot of the mathematical machinery taught in undergraduate EE and ME curricula, such as differential equations, Fourier and Laplace transforms, and complex analysis. Feedback control systems show up all the time in the natural and biological world – think of birds flying or your heart beating – and many of our solutions to technological problems mimic that behavior.

More recently we have seen the emergence of control algorithms and control systems that are driven by complex computer algorithms, such as those from the worlds of artificial intelligence and machine learning, that are highly complex and cannot be boiled down to a few mathematical equations as is often the case in classical control theory. Systems that have both cognitive and physical attributes like this are called “cyber-physical systems.” These control systems have seen explosive growth in recent years, due in large part to the speed and power of computing systems that are just now getting to the point where the algorithms can reasonably be expected to work on practical time scales. The autonomous vehicle is the most prominent example of a cyber-physical system in today’s culture, with all of the cognitive processing that has to take place between the cameras, radars, and lidars (the sensors) and the steering, accelerator, and brake (the actuators). The emergence of cyber-physical systems has greatly elevated the importance of computing and computer science in engineering applications, a trend that I believe merits close attention at Michigan Tech and similar educational institutions.

The next time you are out driving, pay attention to all the human processing you are doing to keep your vehicle going where you want, at the speed you want. There is a lot happening there. Now think about how we might mimic that with cameras and computers. It is scary and exciting all at the same time, but there is little doubt that the day is coming when the computer/electrical/mechanical control system will be doing more and the human less, not just in cars but in everything we get our hands on. It is a golden opportunity for today’s students in electrical and computer engineering. I hope they make the most of it.

– Dan

p.s. thanks to ECE faculty member Jeff Burl for bringing Yoda’s sage advice to my attention.

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


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Bright Spots In The Winter

Photo by Hailey Hart
Photo by Hailey Hart

Today is the last day of winter break before classes start for the Michigan Tech “spring” semester, not counting the upcoming three-day holiday weekend. It still looks very much like winter outside, although we got a short-lived January thaw in the middle of this past week. A winter warm-up always reveals a lot of mud, muck, and other detritis, so despite the driving difficulties and public school closings, a fresh snowfall always brightens things up a bit. I thought this might be a good opportunity to mention a couple of other things that have brightened my day recently.

Our teaching evaluations for the Fall 2017 semester came back, and I was very pleased to see how well the department did in the eyes of our students. These evaluations are conducted online, before final exams, and consist of a series of survey questions with answers on a 1-to-5 scale. When we are boiling down the results, we typically look at one particular question that asks how strongly the student agrees with the statement “Taking everything into account, I consider this instructor to be an excellent teacher.” The department-wide average on this one question was 4.35, and the median was 5: 55% of the respondents indicated “Strongly Agree” with this statement. We also look closely at the average of 7 questions that deal with more the details on how the course is organized and taught – the so-called “Average of 7 Dimensions” – and on this one our average score across all respondents was 4.32. These results include courses taught by tenured and tenure-track faculty, our non-tenure-track faculty, and even the labs taught by our teaching assistants. It is the best we have done since the Fall 2014 semester, when we first started the online surveys and aggregated results were made available. Naturally I am very pleased to see this, and the timing couldn’t be better, as we are seeing an increase in our undergraduate enrollments in ECE. Of course, there may be other factors at play – the strong job market for EEs and CpEs might just be putting our students in a good mood when they fill out the surveys. I didn’t talk to a single ECE graduate at the December commencement who didn’t have a job lined up! Nevertheless, I will take what I can get, and congratulate the department faculty on a job well done.

Congratulations as well go to Assistant Professor Sumit Paudyal on the recent announcement of his National Science Foundation CAREER award. This is a 5-year grant that goes to early-career faculty in the U.S. that show exceptional scholarly promise. Prof. Paudyal’s project is titled “Operation of Distribution Grids in the Context of High-Penetration Distributed Energy Resources and Flexible Loads”, and in it he will bring state-of-the-art theoretical and computational tools in optimization (particularly mixed-integer second order cone programming, or MISOCP) and in robust and distributed control to the problem of managing the large and growing number of distributed energy resources and flexible loads in next-generation energy systems. Sumit was hired five years ago under a special Michigan Tech Strategic Faculty Hiring Initiative (SFHI) in Next-Generation Energy Systems, and this has turned out to be an excellent hiring decision for Michigan Tech. About a year ago I wrote about all four of our assistant professors in the ECE Department, and with this turn of events I can now announce that all four have garnered prestigious early-career awards – three NSF CAREER awards and one Air Force Young Investigator awards. Nice going Sumit and all!

Finally, this week I was especially pleased to learn that Lisa Hitch, the ECE Business Manager and Technical Communication Specialist, was recognized for her service to Michigan Tech and the ECE Department with the “Making A Difference” award, in the category “Above and Beyond.” This is an annual award organized by the Michigan Tech Staff Council; there were 47 nominations and 7 award winners across 6 categories. Lisa and all the award winners were recognized in a special ceremony this past Wednesday, with the award presented by university president Glenn Mroz. Lisa really does go “above and beyond” for the ECE Department, in ways too numerous to mention but one in particular being to help me push this column out every week. The award is extremely well-deserved and so Lisa, thank you for everything you do!

First day of classes next Tuesday. Start your engines everyone!

– Dan

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


Fridays with Fuhrmann: Thoughts For The New Year

President Glenn Mroz
President Glenn Mroz

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to all FWF readers! Michigan Tech has been closed for all intents and purposes from December 23 to January 1, but things are starting to pick up as we prepare for the Spring 2018 semester, which begins on January 16. The weather has been rather cold, like in the single digits or below every day for the last two weeks, but we have also been getting a decent amount of powdery snow on a regular basis, and the ski conditions are as good as I have ever seen them. Not a bad time to be in Houghton if you ask me.

As we kick off the new year, I thought I would share with you some words from our university president, Dr. Glenn Mroz. He read these comments as his opening remarks at the most recent meeting of the university Board of Trustees, the day before our December commencement. He meant them as a sort of holiday message, but I believe they work just as well for the new year. This will be Dr. Mroz’ last full semester as President of Michigan Tech, and with these words I think he sets just the right tone for the future of the university.


Ongoing political events, the turn of the calendar and our campus-wide discussion of the University’s strategic plan got me thinking about the word “value.” It’s used everywhere. Value stocks. Value voters. Value of education. Value of a degree. Family values. “Value” seems in vogue now more than ever. Perhaps because we think we know what it means; we think that it communicates a shared sense of importance or impact to whatever it’s attached to, and for whomever we may be communicating with. Or, perhaps, ironically, and somewhat cynically, because we tend to emphasize what seems to be in short supply in our society. But not here.

In many of my opening remarks at these meetings, and in communications with key alums around the world, I’ve emphasized “value” in terms of high student placement rates and starting and mid-career salaries, return on investment, and low student loan default rates. I’ve also talked about value in terms of the basic societal good that comes from students and grads who can accomplish amazing feats, having been the beneficiaries of a hands-on, minds-on education. Those examples certainly communicate a lot of value for what makes Michigan Tech, Michigan Tech and its relevance to the State and Nation. But, as George Bernard Shawonce noted, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

And I fear that my data-driven attempts to keep people apprised of what Michigan Tech is, and perhaps is not, has at times missed an essential ingredient and that is the “heart” (perhaps soul) of Michigan Tech.

As faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends, we are a numerical bunch! We use data and facts to persuade and prove points that are otherwise hard to imagine or explain. But heart rests on values that have to be inherently true, simple, and without ambiguity.

Through thousands of interactions with our alums, I’ve come to know the personal inner strength that carries people through times when circumstances are conspiring against them – its the strength and ability that’s required to make the right decisions, when all your options look pretty grim. These are the critically important decisions; or to paraphrase Jim Collins the decisions that lead to greatness. Because greatness is not a matter of circumstance, it’s a matter of choice and it’s a matter of will.

That’s why the “heart” of Michigan Tech is as much a part of Michigan Tech’s strategic plan as any goal, metric, accomplishment, or challenge. It provides the “will” to do what’s right for the institution and the people it serves. So while the standard planning exercises of SWOT analysis, creating mission and vision statements, goals, and metrics are important, it’s perhaps more important to have defined who we are as the Michigan Tech community, on campus and around the world. After all, someone has to have the will to take what’s written and agreed to as the plan, and make it so.

Tough times have a way of riveting your attention, and so it was that about nine years ago, a time frequently referred to as the Great Recession, a group of students, faculty, and staff set about to distill the inspirational and aspirational essence of Michigan Tech; to identify the critical values of the people that drive our plans for the future. These are:

We Inspire Community

We inspire an engaged community that actively seeks improvement through acceptance and understanding.

We Inspire Scholarship

We inspire world class scholarship through academics, research, development and continued learning.

We Inspire Possibilities

We inspire the exploration and creation of all possibilities through innovative use of our skills and knowledge.

We Inspire Accountability

We inspire individuals to hold themselves accountable, and to act with integrity, honesty, and diligence.

We Inspire Tenacity

We inspire the tenacity required to make the ethical choice and to persevere through all obstacles.

These are not rocket science. They are not new concepts. They are our valuesinherently true, simple, and without ambiguity. They remind us of who we are, and what is expected of us. They remind us of who we need to be in order to make Michigan Tech a university of consequence. They remind us of what it takes to do exceptionally well in an increasingly challenging world. And they remind us of the essential need for consistency in choice and will that is necessary for Michigan Tech to be of value. They are our values – the heart of Michigan Tech.


Thank you Glenn, for this beautiful message and for giving me permission to share it here. Make 2018 a good one everybody!

– Dan

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


ECE Annual Report 2017

ece-annual-report-2017We are happy to share with you our newly released ECE Annual Report 2017. A look back at our past year highlights research activities from nine of our faculty members in the area of mobility, along with graduate students Mojtaba Bahramgiri, Derek Chopp, and Mehdi Jafari. We share in the good news received during the year in which three of our assistant professors received major early career awards: Lucia Gauchia and Zhaohui Wang received National Science Foundation CAREER awards and Jeremy Bos received the US Air Force Young Investigator Program award. We highlight two of our many outstanding undergraduate students, Brian Flanagan and Casey Strom, for accomplishments and contributions during their BS degree studies. This May we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first female graduate of the Michigan Tech EE department, Pat Anthony. Pat was honored by the University during spring commencement and was also inducted into the ECE Academy. Once again the year included a wide variety of hands-on student projects in our Senior Design and Enterprise programs and we thank our sponsors for making it all possible! We invite you to read about these stories and more. From all of us at ECE, happy holidays and best wishes for 2018!