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Major Project- Ideas and Tips.

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Here’s a question all of us face during our interaction with students of Third Year and Final Year. Although we have a lot to offer, time constraints don’t permit us to give you complete guidance.

Hence, this article.

Many of us have faced the dilemma in choosing a topic for our major project. The rest have faced the worst- not having a topic! Let me help you to decide on a topic or have some great ideas.

I had started making a pool of ideas for my major project even before my Final Year had started… Embarrassingly, not one of them turned into a reality. Reason? I just thought of fancy ideas like a creative artist of a Hollywood sci-fi movie. Whether I’ll be able to complete it or not, was secondary…

So here’s my first advice: Keep your feet on ground! Know what you can do, and more importantly, know what you can’t.  

Now that I’ve finished my major project, I can point out what you should consider before planning on a topic:

Ø  Every branch has a lot to offer. Keep your project in very close proximity to your field of engineering. In some (and very rare) cases, your professors might be able to help you wherever you are stuck.

Ø  Why do we have to do a project in the first place? The motive is not credits. This is what you are going to flaunt when the big companies come to judge you! So make sure your project is noticeable to the kind companies you want to get into. In other words, you should be able to decide your future line of work before deciding on the major project.

Ø  Resources? Will you be able to afford the cost involved in your project?  Some colleges provide grants to students who have a complete idea about their projects. To get a grant approved, you have to apply right after you start your 7th Sem.

Ø  Make sure that your project is do-able in 4 months time. Because, eventually, your exams, techfests and cultural fests will leave you to just 4 months to complete the project!

 

Let me be very clear about this, all colleges have different levels of specialization and so do students. Do not try to compare your projects with what others are doing. Eventually, the success of the project depends upon how much you know about your own project.

 

So you want to do a project in electronics, don’t you? Do you imagine how vague you sound? Electronics is a very broad field and you better choose your domain.  

 

Here are a few interesting domains: Process control, Digital Signal Processing, Bio-Instrumentation, Robotics, Embedded Systems, Telecommunication, Automation, Interface design.

 

I’m going to give some examples of each. As you will see, these subjects are interrelated and although you fix your domain, you will find yourself sneaking in others too.

Process Control:

This is my personal favorite. And if you plan to go into a process industry, it should be yours too..

There is a huge variety of processes that can be controlled automatically. It can be a conveyor belt process, fluid flow process, temperature control process and what not…

So how do we control all these processes simultaneously?

Enter PLCs….

Programmable Logic Controllers are simple yet powerful devices used to control almost any kind of processes. Use the internet to find out more about them if this is where you first heard about PLCs.

PLCs have an easy user interface for programming and debugging.

PLCs are characterized by high speed, expandable I/Os, LCD Human Machine Interface (HMI) and more features depending upon the type of PLC.

A microcontroller can accommodate these features with the use of certain peripherals. I found the AVR series Microcontrollers very instrumental for this kind of projects. The AVR series boasts of on chip ADCs, Different communication protocols like USART, SPI, I2C (Atmel refers to it as Two Wire Interface) and JTAG, In-System Programmability, In-Application Programmability etc.

Those of you with experience with PLCs know that most popularly used language to program PLCs is ladder logic. But to program microcontrollers, we generally use C or Assembly language. So unless you can develop a compiler which can interpret ladder language and generate hex code, keep it simple and program in C.

To undertake this project, you will need the following pre-requisites:

·         Considerable experience with microcontrollers.

·         Work experience with PLCs during internship or otherwise. (if you have access to PLCs in your Labs or otherwise, try working on them.)

·         Knowledge about electronic circuit designing.

·         PCB fabrication experience. (Soldering components on a general purpose PCB doesn’t give it a professional look)

·         Whole lot of patience.

 

Digital Signal Processing:

DSP as a field, was a whole new planet waiting to be discovered, just a few years ago. Now, it is being inhabited by so many scientists, we never knew we had.. This rise in the application of DSP will continue to be so. DSP caters to so many different problems, audio/video signals, AM/FM, data transmission etc.

Also, a huge no of students are suddenly interested in Image processing Robots. The thought of presenting an image processing robot before your wide-eyed professor seems just tempting enough.. But beware! You have to go through a lot of learning before. 

As interesting as it may sound, please undertake this kind of project only if you satisfy the following prerequisites:

·         Work Experience with MATLAB.

·         Experience in C.

·         Considerable knowledge about Digital Signals and Processing.

·         Proficiency with microcontrollers.

·         Good math base and a liking toward it.

 

Those of you who want to make a project using DSP, image processing robot is not the only option. You may opt for voice recognition, handwriting recognition, object recognition, voice command follower etc.

 

 

Bio- Instrumentation:

This branch is as close they can get for some of our engineer friends who love biology. A side which is as interesting and as useful as you can imagine. This field has enough potential for innovation and research.

Bio-Instrumentation, in simple words is the science of measuring and recording biological signals. The nature and magnitude of these signals vary over a large range. Bio-electric potential is the most common signal which is used in obtaining ECGs, EEGs, EMGs etc.

Measuring such kind of electrical (or non electrical) signals of such less magnitude (the Biopotential measured across the heart is in the range of 0.5-10 mV) is a tough challenge. Also developing extra sensitive electrodes to measure this kind of signal is difficult. Bio-Instrumentation addresses these issues.

A project in Bio-Instrumentation will always have a big “application value”. i.e. your project will be appreciated by all due to its practicality and usefulness in today’s world. But while executing such a project you will face a lot of problems: finding the right type of electrodes for measurement, the enormous difference between theoretical and observed values, interruption because of even the slightest noise, very complex signal conditioning circuits etc.

Prerequisites?

·         Exceptional devotion to the subject. (Because, from my experience, failure to get the desired results may tempt you from choosing another topic for the project in the middle of the semester.)

·         Funds! Reliable electrodes like Ag/AgCl cost big bucks.

·         Internet. A lot of research is required in this area.

·         A good friend. Who else is going to let you test your new experiments on him?

 

Consider the following:

 

·         A project on biomedical instrumentation may consist monitoring parameters like heartbeat, Biopotential etc. and make an alarm system to alert personnel in dangerous situations. 

·         Making a system for the disabled or the paralyzed, which can sense even a small effort made by them and help them move the appropriate body part with the help of actuators.

·         Making a semi autonomous obstacle avoiding wheel chair which can be controlled with a small finger touch and guide itself when crossing streets etc.

 

Robotics:

Here we are! Don’t we all love Robots? And how great would it be to build one by yourself!

Many of you might have even built robots before. But now you are in the final year, there should be a level of sophistication expected in your robot. Also, practicability.. there is no use for a simple pick and place robot or a line follower in the society. Think of what kind of robots will be useful in the world. A robot in a library which can stack the books in their respective locations will help our librarian a great deal! Try thinking on those terms. Off hand, I can think of following useful robots:

The following ideas vary from very simple to very difficult. Students should go through them according to their level of experience and expertise.

·         Autonomous Spy robot. Small in size, can record sound, images, videos. Avoids obstacles and transfers data wirelessly.

·         Solar robot. Run independently using solar power to recharge its batteries. Making this robot is a great initiative towards use of greener fuels. The cost of solar panels is prohibitively high. Since you may not be able to use a lot of such cells, power generated by the use of solar energy will be less. For this reason, the functionality of the robot may be considerably less.

·         BEAM robots. A fun field to research. BEAM robots are considerably small robots made of mostly, scrap parts. All the motors, gears and shafts that you get from walkmans and CD-ROMs prove to be valuable when making BEAM robot. BEAM robots, as a rule, do not use digital controllers. The control logic is actually, hardwired logic designed using discreet electronics components like 555 timers, Op-Amps, Logic gates etc. Although the usefulness of the BEAM robots is limited, it includes application of a huge amount of electronics concepts. This idea can be adopted by those who need a very shortcut way to complete projects, because this hardly qualifies for a minor project.

·         Wirelessly controlled overhead crane. You may have seen the yellow (or orange) coloured cranes in industries. Ever wondered how they work? This is a long term project requiring mechanical expertise.  

·         Robotic arm. Many of you must be thinking about this before I even mentioned it. A robotic arm may be made for a wide variety of applications. Pick and place is the most common. But in such kinds of projects, making the arm is only one part. The other part (which sometimes carries more weightage) is the analysis of the arm. Application of Direct and Inverse Kinematics is expected in the documentation.

·         Those of you who are considerably new to the field of microcontrollers but still want to make an autonomous robot may make a simple obstacle avoider with terrain mapping capabilities. This will be a robot which will navigate through a room, detecting and avoiding obstacles. It should be able to commit to its memory the size and position of the obstacles. Thus, after one whole scan, it can plan its trajectory from any point A to point B without encountering any obstacle in its path.

·         Some of the ideas that are very common in techfests are micromouse and robosoccer. Try googling them to know more.

 

Embedded Systems:

Embedded Systems is an unending, undying field which will continue to prosper as long as the human race exists.

Embedded Systems is a collective name given to all those mini and micro computers that control a vast no of devices right from mp3 players to washing machines. The name Embedded Systems indicates that these electronic circuits are embedded inside a bigger device and used to control it.

Development of embedded systems require the knowledge of a huge no of upcoming technologies such as inter controller protocol, inter system protocol, PCB fabrication techniques, microcontroller programming etc.

A great many projects can be made with the use of these concepts. Although the technologies keep improving on a daily basis, some International standards are widely accepted. The devices complying to these standards are readily available. For example, communication protocols like I2C and SPI are considered as international standard. Different devices like EEPROMS, ADCs, DACs, Microcontrollers etc supporting these protocols are available.

To undertake a project of such nature only two things are required:

·         Knowledge about the latest trends in electronics and

·         Access to a regularly updated electronics market.

 

Here are some ideas to think upon:

·         Data Acquisition system. A Real Time (RTC) system that can measure the time and value temperature, light intensity, pressure etc and store it in an EEPROM. A device of this kind should have high temperature, pressure ratings. i.e. It should be able to withstand industry environment. A device of this kind will be of great assistance to those doing process analysis.

·         A PCB tester. After a PCB is fabricated, the only means to test it is to run and check it. This long process can be avoided as follows. The resistance, inductance and capacitance (all or any of the parameters, as required) between any two points of an ideal PCB is recorded. Such recordings are made for a sufficient no of points. The new PCB is tested against this data. If any of the values do not match, the PCB should be tested by the run n check method. This will save a great amount of time, once the process is automated. Of course, a tolerance must be specified depending upon the nature of job.

·         This idea is food for thought for those of you who love researching. Since the binary logic has been already invented, try implementing the trinary logic. i.e. logic including 3 states. Try making truth tables and logic gates using transistors. The computers implementing trinary logic can be imagined to be faster than the present ones. Even making flaw less truth tables and logic gates will be a big achievement. 

·         Multi-module communication. A lot of situations arise where processes are controlled/monitored/recorded with the use of more than one controller. This calls for an efficient system to communicate within that ring of controllers. Implement such a system and make algorithms to choose between multi master, single master, simultaneous master modes.

 

Telecommunication:

Simply said, it’s the art of talking and listening, as applied to machines. A huge no of electromagnetic and infrared waves congest the space. This has made us scratching our heads to find new ways in which to use the same frequency wave to transmit data which can be translated by our receiver alone. Encoding and Decoding is an inherent part of all telecommunication projects. This gives rise to communication protocols like RS-232, RS-485, LAN, CAN etc. again  we have DTMF, FM, AM, IR transfer, Fiber Optics, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi.. the list will never end.

A deep study on the telecommunication concepts is needed to pursue a project on this side.

 

·         Fiber Optic Transmission. Full duplex transmission through optical transmission is under research and in use in a few applications. This is an interesting subject but requires specialized lab infrastructure that not all of you may have.

·         The idea of automation using GSM has been over exploited. But the availability of a GSM module in almost every hand has prompted the engineers to come up with innovative applications that will ease (and in some cases, save) life.

·         The modulation of simple RF waves have given rise to FM and AM. Try making a radio and experimenting on it. You may also attempt to modify these methods of modulation to suit some applications.

·         The telecommunication field can generate a huge no of ideas, try thinking by yourself!

 

Automation:

Automation is the big brother of robotics. Robotics will satisfy only to a small portion of automation needs. I don’t feel the need to emphasize on the importance of automation. Let’s just say it’s a must. Automation begins from home. Think of what chores you hate doing and would rather a machine do it for you?

·         Monitor the temperature and control the fan. Simultaneously, keep a watch on the no of people in the rooms and turn lights on/off automatically.

·         Respond to voice commands to turn on and off appliances (or dim them).

·         An intelligent security system to allow or stop employees in a sensitive area. Try generating algorithms to manage dynamic passwords, which does not need the employees to memorize it.

·         Recording attendance, entry time and exit time of the employees automatically using RFID chips. This will help to save the time of employees and also to avoid proxies and fake entries.

·         CNC. Computer Numerical Control machines are the work of a mechanical genius. Try to walk on his footsteps and see how far you can go. This project is on the lines of the overhead crane but needs a lot more expertise.

 

 

Interface design:

With the advancement of the field of electronics and computers, the operation of devices is becoming more and more complex. A User Interface Designer intends to simplify this task without compromising on any of the features of the device. A high level of demand and challenging problems make this field more interesting.

·         On board programming. The microcontroller program is written on the PC end and transferred to the microcontroller via a serial/parallel programmer. Seems like a long process for simple programs, doesn’t it? Build an onboard programmer with a keypad and LCD interface which can make and burn programs directly into the microcontroller without the need of a PC. The self-programming feature of some microcontrollers like the AVR series will help you a lot.

·         As I have mentioned the wheelchair before, there are a huge no of opportunities where you could help the disabled and paralyzed by converting their small gestures into a usable motion output.

 

 

The list doesn’t end here. This article was just meant to stimulate your engineering senses and help you find more options.

 

A parting tip: Look at the world around you, see what’s missing, complete it.

 

Some of you may have more suggestions or requests. Keep ‘em coming. Will be glad to help you.


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