Photo Courtesy of Dr. Whit Smith

Two words seem to consistently loom large and ominous to the majority of Tech’s rising upperclassmen, due to the notorious demand for time and group work: Senior Design. However, the identity of what “Senior Design” truly is continuously evolving.

For several schools within the College of Engineering, this final culminating course provides students the opportunity to work in teams and apply their knowledge to design, build and test prototypes for solving real-world, open-ended design challenges. These challenges are at times student’s own idea or are proposed by industry sponsors or researchers and faculty.

However, through all the excitement, a new era of Capstone Design has begun. Led by the School of Mechanical Engineering and supported by the College of Engineering, opportunities for interdisciplinary design projects are now becoming available.

Student teams are forming from different schools, majors and disciplines to tackle complex design challenges.

This fall, students from Mechanical, Biomedical and Electrical & Computer Engineering have come together to form multidisciplinary Capstone Design teams to work on some exciting projects.

A few of these include an assisting robotic system for the human hand, an autonomous lawn mower, a gesture-based automotive user interaction environment and a rapid yet accurate full-vehicle metrology system.

Note that there does not exist one single course that seniors from across the campus could take to work on cross-disciplinary projects for capstone design. Hence, on the first day of classes, faculty, students and industry sponsors met on open grounds to share and discuss interdisciplinary design project ideas.

Working on an interdisciplinary team towards solving a real-world problem provides a realistic experience into understanding how actual product design and development takes place for a commercial product, while providing knowledge of the other discipline.

These new learning experiences for students are now being made possible thanks to a web portal, which can be accessed at design.gatech.edu.

Earlier in the spring of this year, the Office of the Director of Design and Innovation launched an ambitious project to create an online portal to support the realization of multidisciplinary capstone design projects. Fifth-year CMPE major, Sarvagya Vaish, and Jasmine Lawrence, BS CS ‘13, were selected as the lead designers for this unique and challenging web portal.

Based on interviews with faculty and students, they conceptualized and developed the back-end of the website to support the entire process of how a multidisciplinary project could be created and presented, how a student team from various schools would form and, finally, how faculty would accept (or potentially reject) the project and the teams.

Lindsay Dady, currently a senior in Mechanical Engineering, designed and developed the front-end user interface of the portal while making sure that the website was simple to use for all user groups.

Since the site was to cater towards a primarily Tech audience, the site navigation and appearance was made similar to that of the sites students already frequent for their work, such as BuzzPort, with a quick links navigation bar on the side of the interface.

At the onset of the fall semester, the beta version of this portal was made available at medesign.me.gatech.edu, where seniors could submit their own project ideas or view existing projects, form multidisciplinary teams and submit bids for any projects they would like to work on.

During the first week of its launch, the site was actively used by around 300 students across campus, all of which were seniors interested in working on senior/capstone design projects.

This web portal was initially a helpful tool in supporting the growth of interdisciplinary design at Tech.

However, at the heart of this rising trend towards cross-disciplinary collaboration lies the true desire of students willing to move beyond their home schools to explore and experience what it is like to work on interdisciplinary teams for solving real-world problems. Senior design is one of the only courses at Tech that expands beyond the classroom, outside of strict textbooks and involves truly impacting an aspect of our community.

Furthermore, faculty engaged in teaching design courses across Tech seem to be very supportive of such initiatives and working with a larger variety of students and academic mind sets within the Tech community.

With the continuous development of such supporting tools, student enthusiasm and faculty encouragement, it is very plausible that soon the campus shall witness more collaboration opportunities among students from various majors and levels leading towards design, creativity and innovation.

The final presentation of the Senior and Capstone Design projects will be held at the Capstone Design Expo on the Dec. 5 at the McCamish Pavilion.

At the event, students will present a semester’s worth of Senior Design work and research involving a real-world issue. They will also compete for placement and prizes and, ultimately, bragging rights.

Check out the expo to see the interdisciplinary initiatives firsthand and learn What Does Georgia Tech Build. More information on the overall senior design project and the final exposition can be found online at capstone.gatech.edu and design.gatech.edu.