UA alumna Jeni Dye (left) discusses Microsoft’s autonomous mobile telemetry platform project with potential team members.

For the UA Engineering Design Program, the 2017-18 academic year is another record breaker. Enrollment soared well past last year’s 396 mark to 457 students, all of whom have 88 real-world projects to choose from — another all-time high.

During the program’s August 24 Open House in the Student Union Grand Ballroom, students came armed with resumes and elevator pitches while company representatives went all out to recruit them for their projects and, possibly, future employment.

A Engineering Design Program senior talks to Peter Lauderdale (left) about the reusable ballistic parachute system for drones being developed by his startup, Kyrie.

Drone and Optics Projects Are the Future

Program director Ara Arabyan noted that this year’s project lineup is heavy on optics and drones.

“That’s the way the world is going,” he said, adding that there are 23 optics projects on offer and only 43 seniors in optical engineering.

One of the drone projects is sponsored by UA graduate and all-American track star Peter Lauderdale. A first-time sponsor, Lauderdale is motivated by a desire to give back.

“Tucson has been very good to me,” he said.

Lauderdale’s Tucson-based startup, Kyrie, is developing a reusable ballistic parachute system for commercial drones. Students on Team 17078 will be working with the company to create a parachute that can be rapidly deployed during an emergency.

Among the other first-timers is aerospace and defense industry giant General Dynamics.

“They’re coming in big,” Arabyan said. “They are sponsoring five projects, and came to the UA after several years of working with ASU’s design program. They want to compare.”

Three of the General Dynamics projects are aimed at improving the Rescue 21 communications system that the U.S. Coast Guard uses to locate mariners in distress. Students who are selected for the other two projects will be developing a cybersecurity risk plan and enhancing the security of web servers used in the “internet of things.”

Tire manufacturer Continental Automotive Systems came up from Mexico to sponsor two projects. Those projects will improve operations at the company’s Nogales, Sonora, plant. Students on Team 17085 will create a vision system for integration into collaborative robotics, while Team 17086 will develop a smartphone app for plant capacity planning and use.

Program director Ara Arabyan talks to Vector Space Systems engineers Jacob Pavek and Jeremy Harrington.

EDP Alumni Return as Company Reps

In addition to challenging UA Engineering students to solve tough problems, the Design Program provides numerous recruiting opportunities for sponsoring companies. Design Program alumni were heavily represented among Open House reps.

At the Microsoft table, Jeni Dye helped the company find students for its low-cost autonomous mobile telemetry platform project. During the 2016-17 academic year, Dye’s Microsoft-sponsored team developed a decision tool for data center robotics.

Jeremy Harrington returned to campus on behalf of his employer, Vector Space. The Tucson-based company is developing the first launch vehicle designed exclusively for microsatellites.

Vector Space is a first-year sponsor and will be working with UA Engineering students on a process that will chill gaseous propylene to liquid state. The chilling process must happen at a rate capable of loading propellant into an orbital class Vector-R launch vehicle.

“It’s not just a thermodynamic problem,” Harrington said. “It’s a logistical and manufacturing problem.”

On May 1, Philip Ciuffetelli shared the Design Day 2017 Gore & Associates Most Creative Solution Award with four teammates. Now he’s a Southwest Gas engineer with a boss who wants another winner. The company’s project, Shallow Ground Natural Gas Aeration Improvement, is aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the process used to extract gas from the soil after a leak.

What’s Next?

The Open House gave students and companies the opportunity to meet each other face to face. Students and the companies ranked their preferences, and then an algorithm made the team selections. Students who did not get their first choice were assigned to a team. Once the teams were formed, the seniors began work on their projects ahead of Design Day 2018’s April 30 deadline.