Crowded house: ECE students design apps to solve societal issues

Posted: December 11, 2020
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One of the most challenging aspects of following COVID-19 health regulations is dealing with the unknown – and for students at The Ohio State University, simply knowing if a building or library is too crowded inside or not becomes more crucial.

In a course at Ohio State, taught by Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Xiaorui Wang, students get the chance to create solutions to some of these societal problems by learning Embedded Computer Systems technology.

Hoping to solve the crowded building issue, one team of student engineers designed an app utilizing real time capabilities to inform people of building capacity levels in their area.

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“The app can track the number of people in a building,” said Katie Eimann, an electrical and computer engineering (ECE) graduate student. “Because of the COVID regulations, it can tell you whether a certain building or library is busy or not.”

An embedded system is a combination of computer hardware and software designed to perform a specific function, even within a larger system, which then facilitates aspects of real-time technology.

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Fellow ECE student team member, Erik Anderson, said the app works through geofencing technology – a service triggering an action when a device enters a set location.

Through geofencing, businesses are finding unique ways to push coupons, notifications, engagement features or even security alerts within their own virtual boundaries. It’s even built into drones so they shut down over restricted areas, like airports.

Anderson said the Building Capacity app and its related software uses GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi or cellular data to trigger a pre-programmed action. In this case, it detects other users of the app within location services and then calculates distances.

Eimann and Anderson are both graduating this semester. With her ECE focus on machine learning, Eimann said she is headed to work for the Wright-Patterson Air Force base.

Anderson

ECE Graduate Research Associate and fellow team member, Jamey Weyenberg, said the Building Capacity app is in its basic form for Android users right now, but they hope to expand its platform.

He said the app works more reliably as more people download it. In this regard, the team hopes Ohio State might be able to utilize what they created within the university’s existing COVID app services.

“We have nine student teams who all did excellent work,” Wang said about the class. “Other projects include drone control, COVID-19 contact tracking, GPS-based friend finding, voice-controlled home automation, an in-store Smart Basket, and Geocaching.”

Weyenberg said he is studying trusted hardware and microelectronics as his main focus in ECE, but always wanted to create an app. He said any student hoping to expand on their skills like this can have a greater impact on society.

“I’ve been interested ever since high school, but never had a good opportunity to do it until this class,” he said. “The great thing about classes like this, with open-end projects, is you can make whatever you want but still benefit yourself and others at the university too.”

Story by Ryan Horns | ECE/IMR Communications Specialist | Horns.1@osu.edu | @OhioStateECE