D4 Design Exercise

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Three weeks ago all the second year electronics students headed off to a special extra lecture, where we were to be set the final design challenge of the year, D4. We all knew it was going to be something pretty big due to the hefty mark allocation associated with it (75% of one module – roughly the same as one exam paper) but I don’t think anyone was quite prepared for what was to come…”you have 11 working days to build a digital oscilloscope”… *gasp*…”and it must be able to display analogue and digital signals”…. “and it must be small, portable and run on batteries”…..”and it must be able to store signals in memory and be able to transfer data to a PC for later use”… wow, that’s an awful lot to do, even in a team of six. “Oh, and you must have a complete system block diagram and module designs complete by this time tomorrow”. Right, better get on with it then…

We spent the first day producing an overall system design and then allocating tasks to everyone. As project manager I had overall responsibility for making sure that everything stayed on track and that the whole system would work together correctly, as well as designing a couple of modules myself. The rest of the first week was spent doing the rest of the detailed design work which was good fun, despite the intensity and the very long hours that ensued. It was great to be able to put everything we have learned so far into practice, as in order to succeed we would need to use our analogue electronics knowledge to pre-process the inputted waveforms, our SystemVerilog skills to produce a controller to run on an FPGA and our C programming skills to make a graphical processing unit that could then display the waveforms on the screen. However, often the best way of learning is just to get stuck in, so on we went…

As the start of the second week came around, I was pleased with the design we had come up with, however, electronics on paper is relatively worthless – we now had one week in order to actually build everything and prove our design would work. Our practical and problem solving skills would be placed under heavy strain and we knew we’d be spending virtually every free hour in the lab, but if it worked then it would really all be worth it! However, immediately everything went wrong – really wrong. Two members of my team fell badly ill and missed a lot of development time, throwing our detailed plans into disarray and leaving the rest of us with a lot of extra work to do. We struggled on though and all the individual subsystems seemed to be coming along well. Come the final day it was time to bring everything together, and I’m absolutely delighted to say we managed to produce a fully working product that could display analogue waveforms, all 8 digital signals or even a combination of the two! Due to the amount of time we lost, we had to cut out all the fancy bells and whistles such as PC connectivity and variable time base, so we knew we wouldn’t win the overall competition for the best product, but I was very proud that we’d manage to pull together and make something that worked.

The most intense few weeks of my university career were nearly at an end, but before we could all go and get a well earned lie-in we had to demonstrate our product to the team of judges from ECS staff and the sponsors, Detica and then present a 6 minute pitch to the judges and the entire year group, highlighting the business proposal for our system as well as all its key features. I felt the hardware demo went well as everything behaved at the crucial moment (despite not even turning on when I first took it out the box!) and also our speaker did a very good pitch. We were very happy with what we’d done, and felt very relaxed knowing there was no way we would win. And then….WE WON!!! I’m actually still in shock now and so incredibly delighted! The judges unanimously thought our product was fantastic and I’ve not been able to shift the smile off my face since! The prize of £100 each is a nice little bonus, but I’m so much more delighted about the way we managed to come through all our problems and actually produce a winning design. Big thanks to all my team mates: Tristan Bogle, Tom Dell, Bekki Robinson, Miraj Wanaguru and Avadhi de Costa – you all deserve it!!

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