Engineering Works of Art

 Students Invent Crayon Vector Illustrators for Mechatronic Design Final

May 21, 2006

The Carnegie Mellon students from this spring semester's Mechatronic Design course might have looked like they were having fun during their project demonstrations, but they were doing far more than just playing with crayons. Their patterned art was the specifically engineered product of drawing machines they designed to precisely plot points which they entered into a computer.

"You can draw and move shapes around in the computer and once you finish you can print it," explained Gopal Patel, a junior in ECE.

Offered under three departments--ECE, MechE, and Robotics--Mechatronic Design was taught by Gary Fedder, Professor of ECE and Robotics, and John Dolan, Senior Systems Scientist, Robotics. Christopher Baker, a graduate student in Robotics, was the teaching assistant.

Assigned to build crayon vector illustrators for their final project, the students divided into teams of three students, spanning across majors. They worked together on the inventions, which had a strict list of specifications: each illustrator had to use at least three different colors, include up and down controls for the crayons, cover a 15 cm. square area, display accuracy to at least 5 mm., draw angles in at least 45 degree increments, and operate at a speed of at least 3 cm. per second.

Although the swirls of color produced by the machines were creative, the main attraction of each presentation was the device itself. Each one solved the same engineering problem using different features, including a joystick control, a mobile robot, a polar-coordinate robot, a printer roller-based system, and a solenoid-activated crayon changer. Solenoid devices convert energy into linear motion.

Senior undergraduates Sheih Hoe Diong and Steven Shamlian in ECE, along with Richard Juchniewicz from MechE, formed a team. Their illustrator used a Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller, and a flexible Java applet they wrote to control the points and colors.

"It's the only one that can draw a circle. Everything is inside our units--all the 'brains' are hidden," said Steven. Through the assignment, the classmates learned not only about the technology, but also about time management and collaboration.

"Failure is part of solving the problem and adjusting the plan," Richard noted, discovering that success only came after making revisions to their initial schematics.

Another group found that keeping the design simple helped them to fix problems as they arose. "One of our goals was to design for simplicity," reported Paul Glass, a graduate student in BME, who partnered with Gopal and Dan Landis, both ECE juniors. They also scripted a user-friendly program to control points and colors.

In the Mechatronic Design curriculum, students integrate mechanisms, electronics, and computer control to achieve functional systems. Through lectures, labs, and interdisciplinary teamwork, they learn about mechanisms, actuators, motor drives, sensors and electronic interfaces, microcontroller hardware and programming, and basic controls. The course fulfills the ECE capstone design requirement, which enhances the student's repertoire of professional problem-solving and engineering design skills in the context of realistic engineering situations.

View the photos of the project demonstrations.

From left to right: Steve Shamlian, Sheih Hoe Diong, and Richard Juchniewicz demonstrate the work of their crayon vector illustrator.

Left to right: Robert Oberreuter and Michael North.

Left to right: Gopal Patel, Paul Glass, and Dan Landis.

Left to right: Alicia Wang and Justin Marini.

Foreground: Joseph Leonelli. Background, L to R: Professor Gary Fedder, Brian Pilnick, Justin Rojan, and Eric West.