Design Projects

A new open-ended engineering design project Physical Computing Design Solutions for Farmers was introduced in the Fall 2017 quarter to 50 students across the College of Engineering. By the end of Winter 2019 nearly 435 students from all COE departments and class standings will have completed a this assignment!

The Physical Computing Design Solutions for Farmers project was developed to introduce the engineering design process through a creative and collaborative process that connected students with an on-campus client, the UC Davis Student Farm, in order to address authentic problems.

The main goals of the project were to provide opportunities to practice communication and team skills and to further develop students creative and critical problem-solving skills. This project also provided an opportunity for all students, regardless of prior coursework, to learn basic electronics, computer programming and prototyping techniques through guided lessons along with plentiful tinker-time.

Preparation for the Project

During the first few weeks of the course, all students prepared for the project by learning how to write code and construct functional circuits with Arduino and Raspberry Pi using open-source learning resources. Prior to being assigned into design teams, students also took a guided tour of the UC Davis Student Farm to learn more about their work activities, fields, facilities, staff and to be observant of any and all “problems looking for a solution.” 

The Assignment

The assignment was presented to students in the the fourth week. Assigned teams of 3 to 4 were asked to design, test and build a “proof of concept” device that addressed a need of their choosing at the UC Davis Student Farm. It was expected that their solution integrated elements of physical computing using parts from the ENG 03 technology kits that all students had access to (i.e., Raspberry Pi, Arduino, motors, sensors, etc.). The following features were required in the final design:

  • an identifiable input and an output (at least one of each)
  • a functioning computer program to control the device
  • a well-constructed and presentable case, chassis, or structure to secure and protect the electronics.

Teams were encouraged but not required to also incorporate laser cut and/or a 3D printed elements into their final design. The UC Davis Start-up Center was generous in providing access to 3D Printing services and Soldering stations. In Spring 2018 training for and use of a laser cutter and 3D printers was offered to interested students by the UC Davis Engineering Student Design Center

Design Criteria

The following design considerations were intended to guide design process and evaluation of final product:

  • Usability – the device should be intuitive and worthwhile for users to interact with.
  • Reliability – the electronic and mechanical system(s) should work consistently and as intended.
  • Aesthetics – the device should be well-constructed and presentable.

Project Milestones

Teams demonstrated their progress in the engineering design process at key milestones throughout the quarter. Each milestone is accomplished by a technical communication Presentation Assignment that communicates aspects of your team’s evolving design, activities and outcomes. The presentation assignments involve participating in conducting a technical review meeting (Milestone 1), presenting a prototype (Milestone 2) and delivering a poster presentation (Milestone 3) leading to the Final Poster Presentation. The project milestone due dates along with additional information are provided below. Further instruction and grading rubrics will be provided to guide your preparation efforts

Milestone 1 – Technical Review Meeting 

Presentation #3 due in Studio 5 

Points: 20

The Technical Review Meeting is an 8 to10 minute white board presentation done in groups. Assume your team is presenting to your bosses (instructors).  The technical meeting should include a conceptual design for your device.  Students should be prepared to discuss

  1. Operating principals (i.e., how the device works, power system, user input, program logic, etc.)
  2. Quantitative details about design and operating expectations
  3. What remains to be done prior to the final test date

Milestone 2 – Initial Design Prototype

Presentation #3 due in Studio 7

Points: 20

The Initial Design Prototype is a mock-up of your device that (i) communicates the “look” of your design concept, (ii) demonstrates how the user will interact with the design, (iii) include a general sketch/draft of your computer program, and (iv) provide examples of the intended output.

Design Critique: Your team will have 5 minutes to share your design prototype with two other teams and to receive feedback. Your team will also provide feedback to the other teams on their design prototypes. During your short presentation, your team must address requirements (i) through (iv) above.

It is not expected that you have a fully functioning device at this stage, although your design should have one or more functional features.  For this presentation you should have a 3-dimensional mock-up of the device (e.g., constructed with paper, cardboard, tape or other everyday materials), sketches, a circuit, and a computer program to share (if asked).

Milestone 3 – Poster Pitch Practice 

Presentation #5 is due in Studio 9 

Points: 30

The Poster Pitch Practice is a 2 to 3 minute poster presentation and dress rehearsal.  The audience is your instructors, classmates and possibly invited students with the aim of in preparing for the “final poster presentation.”


Teams are required to incorporate elements of physical computing into their final design using parts from the ENG 3 technology kits that include Arduino, Raspberry Pi, breadboard, an assortment of electonic components and sensors. Prototyping materials including foam core, cardboard, thin wood sheets (for cutting or laser cutting), fPLA filament for 3D Printing, tape and cutting tools will also be provided.

Each team is allowed (but not required) to purchase up to $30 of additional parts* such as a sensor and/or an actuator that is not included with the kits. *NOTE: This is out-of-pocket paid by students (no reimbursement by instructor). We realize students may want to use other items, but we also want to keep this project equitable for all and thus placed the $30 limit.