Monthly Archives: June 2019

Four students in gray polo shirts stand in front of a scientific poster, holding electronic parts of a beacon system.

Project Title: Smart Distributed Environmental Beacon

Raytheon logoTeam 18059 Members:
Laura Brubaker, electrical and computer engineering
Benjamen Fletcher, mechanical engineering
Luis Gama, systems engineering
Sam LaMont, mechanical engineering
Nicole Muchow, electrical and computer engineering

Sponsor: Raytheon

Four students in gray polo shirts stand in front of a scientific poster, holding electronic parts of a beacon system.

Dropping Beacons and Helping Hikers

Before it could win the $5,000 Raytheon Award for Best Overall Design at Engineering Design Day 2019 on April 29, the distributed environmental beacon went through a lot. The five students who created the emergency hiking alert system dropped it onto a concrete floor, submerged it in water and subjected it to extreme temperatures.

The mesh network of beacons, which they called HikeAlert, transmits emergency signals from a phone application to a central location like a ranger station. Its purpose is to help hikers survive emergency situations — which means the system must also withstand wilderness conditions.

Team member Luis Gama, a systems engineering major, once got lost on a hike in the Hollywood Hills. He and his friends ran out of water but found their way back after a couple of hours. Nevertheless, the experience made him realize just how serious a lost hiker situation can be — especially in the heat of Arizona, where about 600 search-and-rescue missions are conducted each year.

Design Day judge Jay Sampson considered the project one of the day’s biggest standouts.

“It’s a life-and-death issue,” he said. “They pretty much manufactured the product themselves, and here in the Sonoran environment, it’s actually applicable. It was ready to go.”

Pushing the Limits – From Start to Finish

The process of taking the project from visualization to reality was one of the highlights of the team’s design experience.

“We started off with nothing and created this final thing,” Gama said. “Just seeing the whole lifecycle of the product was my favorite part.”

The team, which also won the Prototron Circuits Award for Best Printed Circuit Design, designed not only the beacons but also the app and a mechanism to drop the beacons from a drone.

The beacons can survive a 5-foot freefall, 30 minutes under a foot of water and temperatures ranging from minus 40 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. They are solar-powered and equipped with a battery that lasts up to 48 hours, so they’ll work even in cloudy conditions. Additionally, if one beacon disconnects from the system for some reason, the signal automatically reroutes to a different beacon.

“When I saw this project, I thought, ‘This is the project for me.’ It involves a lot of things I’ve done at internships and other skills I’ve wanted to learn’” said electrical and computer engineering major Nicole Muchow, who learned how to surface mount solder while working on the project. “The first time I tried it, it took me five minutes to solder a piece onto the board. Now I can do it in about 15 seconds.”

Applying Skills in New Jobs

Now that they’ve graduated, the students are taking the skills they’ve learned on to new positions. Brubaker is interning at American Express for the summer, Benjamen Fletcher was hired as an associate engineer at Northrop Grumman, and Nicole Muchow is interning at Raytheon, for example.

Industry mentor Mark Booth, a department manager at Raytheon Missile Systems, said the team’s work was outstanding.

“The UA is developing some terrific students,” he said. “They are smart, hardworking and full of ingenuity. We look forward to partnering with the College of Engineering to continue this tradition.”

Ron Rich holds his Circle of Excellence Award, a clear trophy in the shape of a gear, while standing next to program director Ara Arabyan.
Ron Rich holds his Circle of Excellence Award, a clear trophy in the shape of a gear, while standing next to program director Ara Arabyan.

Ron Rich, right, stands with Engineering Design Program director Ara Arabyan, after receiving the first Engineering Design Program Circle of Excellence Award at Design Day 2019.


Longtime partner honored by UA Engineering Design Program for supporting and strengthening future engineers.

The University of Arizona Engineering Design Program presented Ron Rich – the recently retired director of engineering for auxiliary power systems at Honeywell – with its inaugural Circle of Excellence Award at Design Day 2019 on April 29, in recognition of his longstanding support.

“Watching one of the college’s alumni go on to a successful career is always rewarding,” said program director Ara Arabyan. “But there is something particularly special about alumni who pour their time and energy back into their alma mater. It is a pleasure to give this award to Ron in recognition of his lasting impact on our students.”

Not only did Rich earn his UA bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1982, but he’s been a valuable partner to the College of Engineering and the Engineering Design Program for more than two decades as a guest lecturer and judge.

Under his leadership, Honeywell has supported more than 70 capstone projects in the last 11 years, including 12 in the 2018-2019 academic year alone – the most projects a single company has ever sponsored in one year.

“I’ve always been a proponent of the program,” Rich said. “One of my roles was to support undergraduate programs, because Honeywell hires new graduates from the UA every year. We hire nearly all the disciplines in the College of Engineering.”

Arizona Born and Bred

Rich grew up in Phoenix and moved to Tucson to attend the UA, where he says he had the opportunity to grow as both an engineer and a person.

“My education here was critical,” he said. “Both the technical aspects of it and the hands-on learning that I got to do working with a few of my professors.”

One of the most valuable lessons he learned came from his own senior capstone experience. For their project, he and his team designed a racing wheelchair for quadriplegic students. They worked hard on it, applying concepts from classes and learning new skills, such as welding. They presented their design on a Saturday morning, and the chair was set to be delivered to their customers – three wheelchair-using students on campus – on Monday.

At lunchtime Saturday, a classmate accidentally broke the chair. The capstone instructor told the team they had to repair it if they wanted to graduate, despite their insistence that they didn’t cause the damage.

“I learned quickly that life isn’t fair, and that customers don’t care about the noise behind the scenes,” Rich said. “Our professor taught us that, despite what happened, you’ve got to fix the chair, complete the project and deliver it to your customers.”

Rich learned lifelong lessons from his own senior design project, and he’s been happy to watch the UA Engineering Design Program mature, evolve and become more interdisciplinary.

“I’m privileged to have been a part of this, and I hope that I’m still involved for many years to come,” he said.

A race track with go-karts lined up ready to start racing. The karts are topped by solar panels and have different builds and configurations.

Tech Parks Arizona held the eighth annual Racing the Sun, a high school solar go-kart competition, Saturday, April 27th, 2019, at Tucson’s Musselman Honda Circuit.

University of Arizona College of Engineering students also participated. Tech Parks Arizona teamed up with the UA’s Transportation Research Institute and sponsored a team of seniors and challenged them to create an autonomous self-driving solar-powered go-kart.

The senior design team demonstrated a working prototype of a full autonomous go-kart that runs on solar power.