Creating a Sensor Network, Disguised as Rocks

Oct. 20, 2021


Five students in a classroom. Two sit at a table with a laptop in front of them, and three are standing behind them.
Standing: Nicole Isabel Statler, Jesus Alberto Lopez, Brianna Nicole Robles Seated: Christopher Vuong, Martin Vazquez

Project Title: Joint UA UMass Project: Smart Rocks: A Network of Covert Smart Sensors

Team 22069 Members:

Jesus Alberto Lopez, electrical and computer engineering

Brianna Nicole Robles, systems engineering

Nicole Isabel Statler, systems engineering

Martin Vazquez, mechanical engineering

Christopher Vuong, electrical and computer engineering

Sponsor: Raytheon

Networks of sensors can be used to record sounds, vibrations, temperature changes and radiofrequency transmissions. In natural environments, they are used for everything from wildlife tracking to forest fire monitoring to border and perimeter surveillance.

Team 22069 is creating a network of small, autonomous, interconnected sensors that can be used outdoors. To ensure the sensors are covert, they will be disguised to look like rocks. Hence, the name of the project: Smart Rocks.

“Smart Rocks will provide a system of rocks (nodes) that will collect sensor data from a given environment,” said team lead Nicole Statler. “It will have the capabilities to share data to a local network of rocks and to an external network for research and observance.”

Deliverables include a digital architecture model and a realized hardware and software system. Hardware consists of “rocks” that can communicate wirelessly and power themselves for an agreed-upon amount of time.

“This project interested all of us because we were able to start from a blank sheet and watch the project unfold with all of our ideas,” said Martin Vazquez, project procurement lead. “We were also interested in the opportunity to work in conjunction with another design team.”

Raytheon is sponsoring two senior design teams to work on this project: one at the University of Arizona and the other at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. UA and UMass Lowell are two of the top universities from which Raytheon recruits employees, according to company representatives.

The teams are still working out their division of work, but so far, UA students are planning to focus on power delivery and sensor work, while the UMass Lowell team will work on the communications subsystem.

As the students learn how to navigate scheduling across time zones, they are honing soft skills, such as teamwork and communication. They know that integrating the components at the end of the academic year will require tight scheduling and efficiency. But they are enjoying the process so far.

“Our teams have thoroughly enjoyed working with each other,” said team member Brianna Robles. “Working with cross-functional engineers is beneficial both socially and professionally,” said team

member Brianna Robles. “It’s also intriguing to get an insight into engineering disciplines different than our own.”

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