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.”