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Industrial Electronics Program Garners National Attention at Research Conference

11/5/2009

Drake State recently sent a team of students, faculty, administrators and University Partners from Alabama A& M University to the National Science Foundation’s HBCU-UP National Research Conference. When the team returned, the college had received national recognition for its faculty’s positive academic outcomes using NSF Grant Funds and a 3rd place award for the creation of “An Intelligent Cane for the Visually Impaired”.

The Conference was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in conjunction with the Historically Black College and University’s Undergraduate Programs to honor research advancements in the college and university community. Drake State was the only two year college from the United States which presented a research paper at the conference. Grants from The National Science Foundation are one of the largest funding sources for research at colleges and universities.

The Industrial Electronics Program at Drake State has boasted National Skills USA Finalists and has several outstanding graduates working in the fields of Engineering and Information Technology. Now the program can add National Finalist from the NSF HBCU-UP Conference. Mr. Doug Hilton was honored for his oral presentation for the development of “An Intelligent Cane for the Visually Impaired”. Hilton was assisted by fellow industrial electronics student Demetrius Brown. James Pleasure, adjunct industrial electronics Instructor and Karl Henry, Engineering Division Chair/Electronics Instructor supervised the project. The “intelligent cane” represents a state of the art application of embedded technology in the field of electronics. The “intelligent cane” serves as a platform by which eight peripheral devices are able to interact and communicate allowing for the operation of such devices as GPS Tracking, Ranging Sensors (which tell how close or far away an item is) e-911 or an accelerometer (which senses how fast an item is moving and can emit a signal if the item lies dormant for a specified period allowing for its location).

Hilton says he was challenged by Henry to create something that would demonstrate the capabilities of the new PIC Microcontroller and FPGAs he was working with. Having worked with Amateur Radio operators who are blind, Hilton decided to create something that would allow people with special needs to utilize their other heightened senses.

“I visualized an information provider that would help them navigate and plug into some of what we take for granted because we are sighted,” says Hilton. “I believe the hardware and software that we’re building will be usable in wheelchairs, walkers and electric carts to improve the quality of life for many people.”
Development on the “Cane” doesn’t end with the NSF Award. The goal is to enlist a potential user of the cane and allow their input to guide what devices or actions would be most beneficial for the “cane” to perform.

The presentation not only resulted in a 3rd place finish for the student presenter, but also allowed Drake State to entertain partnership requests from the University of California-Berkley Lawrence Research Laboratories, the University of Pennsylvania and Spelman College. The Cal Berkley partnership could result in up to four summer internships for Drake State students to attend University of California Summer Workshops.

In addition to the accolades bestowed on the Industrial Electronics Program, Emma White, a participant in the Drake State Adult Summer Bridge Program, also invited to present a research project. “A Comparative Research of the Effects of Alpha and Ultraviolet Radiation on the Growth of Aspergillus Niger in a Simulated Aerospace Environment” was the research she conducted. Aspergillus niger is a fungus that was discovered growing in the vacuum of space on the Russian Mir space station. Ms. Khalilah Burton assisted Ms. White as her technical advisor.

Additionally, faculty members Burton, Henry and Carolyn Henderson served as subject matter judges for oral and poster presentations with Burton and Henry selected as judging session chairs. Henry also served on a panel which presented “Lessons Learned: Technology-Based Programs and Curricula”. Henry and Dr. John Reutter presented un-judged poster sessions describing success stories of Drake’s NSF Sponsored Strategic Plan for Expansion, Enhancement and Development of Undergraduate Programs (SPEED-UP). Through the SPEED-UP Program Drake State provides summer educational opportunities for high school students, adult learners and secondary school educators to acquaint them with post secondary technical education. SPEED-UP also assists Drake in developing curriculum for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) courses offered by the college.

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