General instructions for undergraduate students asking for a (final-year) project
We receive numerous inquiries from undergraduate students if there is any research project solved by our group in which they can be involved. The typical motivation is the final-year undergraduate project/thesis but oftentimes even second- or third-year students are expressing their interest. Although it is true that our group is conducting research in a bunch of research directions and there is always a lot of work with which we might need a hand, our experience is that involving a new and inexperienced student directly in any such research project, where the directions are already set, deliverables stricly required and deadlines mercilessly enforced, very often (although not always) turns out an inefficient way to start a collaboration. Therefore we decided to apply the following strategy described in this text.
But first, note that these guidelines are not to be taken dogmatically. If you are a focused and determined student pursuing his or her own direction who noticed that there is an overlap with one of our research directions (say, you already know that you would like to focus on some numerical optimization issues related to control design because you have already studied some topics in optimization on your own, or you have already accepted a lifetime mission in improving the instrumentation for early cancer detection and you have recently done some intership at a relevant research institute and you have noticed that we are heading in a similar direction), do not hesitate to contact us. We can discuss this individually and there is a good chance to involve you in our research directly. This text is addressed to students who are still exploring the field, aiming to gather experience from diverse areas, not yet sure in which area they want to specialize.
If you - a student - are interested in collaborating with us, first look at our projects (make sure you have watched the videos and read at least the abstracts of papers). This will give you a picture that we enjoy mixing knowledge and skills from applied mathematics, physics, electronics, signals processing, robotics, computer vision, and, of course, control design. Different projects require different blends but this list is roughly characterizing our desirable know-how portfolio. This can hardly be acquired just by attending lectures and reading textbooks...
Luckily, there are are a bunch of very interesting websites that document numerous crazy and fancy projects relying on the same know-how and skills. We suggest that you - an interested student - take some time to browse through them and start thinking if you can come up with anything similar for your own first project. If you propose two or three options, then there is a good chance that there will be an overlap with our own interests and then one of us might be willing to become a supervisor of your project.
These project websites are
http://www.instructables.com/ - a very popular website for the do-it-yourself (DIY) community. Please filter out those technology-unrelated projects first.
https://hackaday.io/ (scroll down) - similar as above but a little bit higher concentration of more advanced projects. These are true geeks and hackers.
http://makezine.com/ - in fact, this is a website of the popular Mage magazine, but they have a list of projects too.
All the three websites above offer gazilions of projects centered around popular (and most often than not also open-source and open-hardware) platforms such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, mbed or STM Discovery kit(s), desktop fabrication technologies with digital inputs such as 3D printing, CNC machining and laser cutting, and cheap sensors and wifi modules such as the unbelievably cheap ESP8266 enabling surfing on the wave of "Internet of Things" (IoT). The websites contain not just presentations of these projects but also fairly usable instructions.
Note that although we are encouraging you to make your hands dirty, this does not mean that in your project you will only exercise your soldering and coding skills. You can come up with a project in which you will have a lot of opportunities to practice signal processing tricks with the measured signals, use systematic procedures for building mathematical models of dynamics and solve some optimization tasks in real time.
You can perhaps find some opportunities in your out-of-school activities. For example, are you burning it down on a skateboard/longboard like James Kelly does? Then how about designing a small unit for recording the top speed? But make sure the device can measure the speed up to 130km/h. Perhaps combining several sensing principles by means of Kalman filter or complementary filter could do the best job. Or do you instead enjoy watching your aquarium fish? How about using a camera or two and a computer to record their position and then visualise their collective motion? It might be fun to stimulate the fish somehow and record and analyse their response. Or do you grow some flowers in your room but leave them often unattended (not watered) for a few days? How about designing a feedback control system for watering the flowers based on measuring the dryness of the soil? Could the measurements of the temperature in the room or outdoors be used to augment the control performance with some prediction capability?
Are you getting the point? Not just a screwdriver, soldering iron and keyboard but also algorithms, equations and data...
The list of equipment available in our lab could give you a picture of what tools can be readily used (you can certainly find some more around at some other departments). Namely, note that we even have a small 3D printer, so you can rely on it should there be a need in your project. You can start playing around with some free editor such as https://www.tinkercad.com/, http://www.123dapp.com/design, parametric http://www.openscad.org/ or in fact any 3D modeller of your choice.
Another resource for learning are the websites of these two companies
These are so-called community-centered companies - geeks, hackers and makers love them. They contribute back to the community by creating various tutorials and also by sharing their code and schematics. Browse through these. But also through their online shop just in order to get a better picture of what is available. (You do not have to do the shopping now, once we agree on a project of a joint interest, we can either do the shopping or reimburse all your major expenses).
Let us explain that by encouraging you to propose a project of this DIY kind, we are not trying to dampen your academic enthousiasm, quite the opposite! It is becoming (again) popular to do such projects at top universities and reinforce the culture of makers, hacker, geeks among engineering students. Have a look at this course at Cornell
http://people.ece.cornell.edu/land/courses/ece4760/FinalProjects/ - students are asked to present their projects exactly at the places I enlisted above (typically Hackaday).
Or you may want to see this (archived) course at MIT
or this recent announcement on the website of ECE department at Stanford University
Now, unleash your creativity and come up with a project :-) If it is sufficiently crazy and fancy, we can go for it. Based on what you learn within this project, we can start talking later about finding some opportunity for you in some other already running research projects. Just to clarify, we do not view the DIY-like projects that we are referring to in the above paragraphs as inferior to "research projects". In fact, the requirements on the quality of your work and the creativity of your engineering mind is identical. It is just that first we want to see you working on a project of your choice (surely we can finetune the project assignment together, but the initial shape is up to you), because that will give you freedom to find what you truly like, including finding the best proportion among coding, electronics, mathematics, physics, special techniques from our own engineering discipline - control systems....