Grab A Stanford Computer Science Education

There are two reasons to go to school: learn about something and to get a coveted piece of paper that helps you get jobs, or at least, job interviews. With so many schools putting material online, you can do the first part without spending much money as long as you don’t expect the school to help you or grant you that piece of paper. Stanford has a huge computer science department and [Rui Ma] cataloged over 150 computer science classes available online in some form from the University. Just the thing to while away time during the quarantine.

Apparently, [Rui] grabbed the 2020 course catalog to find on-campus classes and found the companion website for each class, organizing them for our benefit. The list doesn’t include the actual online class offerings, which you can find directly from Stanford, although there is another list for that.

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Quadcopter With Stereo Vision

Flying a quadcopter or other drone can be pretty exciting, especially when using the video signal to do the flying. It’s almost like a real-life video game or flight simulator in a way, except the aircraft is physically real. To bring this experience even closer to the reality of flying, [Kevin] implemented stereo vision on his quadcopter which also adds an impressive amount of functionality to his drone.

While he doesn’t use this particular setup for drone racing or virtual reality, there are some other interesting things that [Kevin] is able to do with it. The cameras, both ESP32 camera modules, can make use of their combined stereo vision capability to determine distances to objects. By leveraging cloud computing services from Amazon to offload some of the processing demands, the quadcopter is able to recognize faces and keep the drone flying at a fixed distance from that face without needing power-hungry computing onboard.

There are a lot of other abilities that this drone unlocks by offloading its resource-hungry tasks to the cloud. It can be flown by using a smartphone or tablet, and has its own web client where its user can observe the facial recognition being performed. Presumably it wouldn’t be too difficult to use this drone for other tasks where having stereoscopic vision is a requirement.

Thanks to [Ilya Mikhelson], a professor at Northwestern University, for this tip about a student’s project.

A Car That Runs On Homemade Chemical Reactions

The race for chemical engineering is quite literally on. Every year, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AlChE) brings together hundreds of university students to face-off to design the fastest car using techniques they’ve learned from chemical engineering courses.

The Chem-E-Car competition races cars which are only powered by chemical reactions. The goal is to come up with an elegant solution – you can’t simply jettison matter out the back as the method of locomotion. In particular, the rules don’t allow the use of liquid or obnoxious odor discharge, commercial batteries, brakes, or electrical/mechanical timing devices. However, this doesn’t mean that electronics are absent from these designs. Many teams must gather data in order to design a control system to improve the performance of their car.

Students have to build a power system, stopping mechanism, circuitry, and mechanical assembly for the body of the car, all to fit in a size constraint not much bigger than a shoebox. The competition primarily judges the accuracy of the chemical reaction for stopping the car more so than speed or power. Given that the load the car must carry is typically unknown until the day of the competition, this is a significant challenge, allowing teams to find a way to design a flexible reaction that can accommodate a range of loads and distances.

For example, this 2015 entry from the Rice University team (PDF) uses a fuel cell for locomotion and an iodine clock reaction as a timer for braking. The fuel cell powers an Arduino which monitors a light-dependent resistor. In between the LED and that LDR, the clock reaction turns opaque at a predictable time and triggers the motors to stop turning.

While many schools choose not to disclose their designs in order to gain a competitive edge, we applaud the teams who have shared the story of their builds. Kudos to the Rice team mentioned above, to the 2014 Rutger’s team whose white paper outlines the construction of aluminum air batteries worthy of Walter White, to the car from the Universitas Negeri Semarang, Indonesia powered by a thermoelectric generator (PDF), the UC Berkeley team for outlining numerous approaches to developing their power system, and the two Ohio State team’s entries seen winning the regional competition in the video below.

If you were on a team that compete the the Chem-E-Car, we want to hear about it!

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The Young Engineers Guide To University Capstone Projects

Engineering degrees are as wide and varied as the potential careers on offer out in the real world. There’s plenty of maths to learn, and a cavalcade of tough topics, from thermodynamics to fluid mechanics. However, the real challenge is the capstone project. Generally taking place in the senior year of a four-year degree, it’s a chance for students to apply everything they’ve learned on a real-world engineering project.

Known for endless late nights and the gruelling effort required, it’s an challenge that is revered beforehand, and boasted about after the fact. During the project, everyone is usually far too busy to talk about it. My experience was very much along these lines, when I undertook the Submarine That Can Fly project back in 2012.  The project taught me a lot about engineering, in a way that solving problems out of textbooks never could. What follows are some of the lessons I picked up along the way. Continue reading “The Young Engineers Guide To University Capstone Projects”

The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning

It’s often said that engineers aren’t born, they’re made. Or more accurately, taught, tested, and accredited by universities. If you’re in high school, you’re probably starting to think about potential career paths and may be considering an engineering degree. A lot of work goes into a good college application, and it might seem like the hardest part is getting in. However, if your end goal is to get yourself a great engineering job at the end of your studies, it pays to have your head up from day 1!

I Just Need A Degree, Right?

Back in my freshman days, there was a saying that was popular on campus, particularly with those studying STEM topics. “Ps get degrees.” Your college’s grading system might use different letters, but the basic gist was that a pass mark was all that was required to get your piece of paper at the end of your four years. While this is technically true, it’s only really a useful ethos if your aim is to simply get a degree. If your goal is to use that degree to score yourself a plum job in your field, it would be unwise to follow this credo.

This attitude will net you plenty of wonderful memories at the bar, but it will dent your chances of landing a solid job upon graduation. All in moderation!

The reality of the modern job market is that it’s highly competitive. Recruiters can receive hundreds of applications for a single job, meaning the vast majority of applicants don’t even make it to the interview stage. To trim down the pile, various criteria are used to pick out the ideal candidates. An easy way to do this is to sort by grades. Having a low GPA can therefore see your application relegated to the trashcan, before you even get a chance to impress anyone with your carefully honed skills. Continue reading “The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning”

Student-Built Rocket Engine Packs A Punch

A group of students at Boston University recently made a successful test of a powerful rocket engine intended for 100km suborbital flights. Known as the Iron Lotus (although made out of mild steel rather than iron), this test allowed them to perfect the timing and perfect their engine design (also posted to Reddit) which they hope will eventually make them the first collegiate group to send a rocket to space.

Unlike solid rocket fuel designs, this engine is powered by liquid fuel which comes with a ton of challenges to overcome. It is a pressure-fed engine design which involves a pressurized unreactive gas forcing the propellants, in this case isopropanol and N2O, into the combustion chamber. The team used this design to produce 2,553 lb*ft of thrust during this test, which seems to be enough to make this a class P rocket motor. For scale, the highest class in use by amateurs is class S. Their test used mild steel rather than stainless to keep the costs down, but they plan to use a more durable material in the final product.

The Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group is an interesting student organization to keep an eye on. By any stretch of the imagination they are well on their way to getting their rocket design to fly into space. Be sure to check out their other projects as well, and if you’re into amateur rocketry in general there are a lot of interesting things you can do even with class A motors.

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A Professional-Level Desk In A Dorm

Heading off to college comes with its own set of challenges. Harder course material, living away from home for the first time, and dealing with roommates are common hurdles to overcome, but an oft-overlooked issue is the poor quality dorm room desks. For a place that a student is expected to spend a majority of their study time, colleges and universities don’t often provide inspiring areas in the dorm rooms for this task. With a few tools and some time, though, anyone suffering in a dorm can have a much better place to work.

This desk build comes to us from reddit user [lucas_talbert] and is noteworthy for using simple tools and materials to transform the standard, boring desk in a way which won’t upset the facilities manager in charge of the dorm furniture. The backer is a piece of plywood which was covered in bamboo flooring. It was screwed into the back of the desk and secured with L-brackets. A piece of 1×4 was attached around the edges to help hide the LED lights and cables as well.

We like this build for its impressive transformation of an otherwise drab dorm room into a place that most of us wouldn’t mind having as our main workstation, even beyond college. It also uses common materials and is easily removable, both of which are perks when living as a student. The one thing it doesn’t have, though, is the ability to exercise when using it.