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BYU Capstone team creates world-champion educational device


How do you visualize the invisible?

That’s the question teams from around the world had to answer for the annual IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society Student Design Contest. It challenged them to demonstrate the design of an array with beamforming capability for Direction of Arrival determination in a practical application and provide educational material to explain it.

In other words, teams had to take a complex and intangible phenomenon and make it accessible to students.

BYU students Whitney Kinnison, Ben Francis, Elias Guañuna, Keaton Shurilla, and Batsaikhan “Sam” Ariun-Erdene formed the team Dangerous Directivity and took up the challenge for their Capstone project. Annette Steed (BYU EE '98) coached the team.

The projector they designed displays a band of color on the floor that follows a user holding a radio transmitter. Faculty advisor Dr. Karl Warnick said he originally tried to direct them towards sophisticated, more technically challenging solutions, but then someone came up with the projector idea. It was simple, but brilliant.

“They just made a really visually simple way to understand it that would appeal to anyone,” he said. “I really want them to polish up their hardware and have it here as part of our department tour.”

The contest judges had similar feelings. Dangerous Directivity and five others qualified for the competition finals, and IEEE funded these teams with $1500 each to build and test their designs.

Francis said qualifying for the finals made the project more meaningful for him. “When we started, I think we just wanted to do the class and then go on with our lives,” he said. “It changed when we found out we had been finalists.”

Things got even more exciting in October, when IEEE announced the competition winners: in third place, a team from Portugal; in second place, Pennsylvania State University, and in first place, Dangerous Directivity.

“Finding out we had taken first place was the cherry on top, very exciting,” Francis said.

He added that it was exciting to come up with an idea, present it, then build it and see it working in real life. Team captain Guañuna said they’d be able to present confidently, knowing how they rank with other teams.

Although the win was exciting, the experience itself was the biggest reward.

“My team was phenomenal,” Guañuna said. “Every single person had very specific talents, and we communicated very well.”

Francis echoed Guañuna’s sentiments, saying they were lucky to be put together because they all worked so well. They selected Guañuna as their team lead, but he didn’t have to do much leading.

“They were all super self-motivated,” he said.

Now living in Germany, Ohio, Mongolia, Japan, and Utah, the team is spread throughout the world. Due to outside obligations for most of the team, Kinnison will be representing the rest in Singapore, which recently reopened for visitors.

But the other four aren’t without their rewards. They will receive a cash prize for winning, and for Francis and Guañuna, the Capstone experience was a reward in itself.

“There was hardware, software, firmware, and we had to use so many talents and resources that we’d accumulated,” Guañuna said. “When I walked away, I felt like, ‘I’m actually an engineer.’”

He also said his leadership experience from captaining the team was one of the most attractive things to the company that hired him. Francis said the Capstone experience gave him a leg up in his new job working with radars for NASIC.

“Coming into this job, my coworkers were surprised that I already knew basically the guts of radar: the terminology and how they work,” he said.

It’s also a boon for BYU.

“It puts BYU on the map, because there was high-level competition from universities around the world,” Warnick said.

Francis said he’s very proud to have put BYU on the international stage and to have shown the world that we have an excellent Electrical and Computer Engineering department. And the department is bound to become even more excellent as the team’s device educates future generations of students on beamforming arrays with unprecedented finesse.