When Manny Miera began work on his engineering capstone project in the early ‘90s, he didn’t know it would influence the trajectory of his entire career. The 1992 computer engineering graduate worked with early forms of artificial intelligence to help advise fellow engineering students.
Now, he is the founder and CEO of PeakView Solutions, a software company that helps the cable, television and customer service industry manage workforce productivity. The company’s current AI-based projects had its roots in his capstone project at the University of Arizona.
Tell us about your capstone project during your University of Arizona education.
It was an individual project. I don't think there were formal group projects at that time. My project was an expert system called “Student Advisor." However, my initial project was creating a full-sized Braille screen with pins that could translate images into 3D images using pins that are presented at variable heights. The idea was to use solenoids, a type of electromagnet, to move pins up and down at variable heights based on the voltage input. Each solenoid was treated as a pixel. However, the solenoids that were donated to me for the project were not easy to calibrate for consistent output across multiple pixels.
During this time, I was trying to get an appointment with my advisor. The only available time he had to meet with me was a month out. It was my opinion that an app could augment the advisors and provide a virtual solution. My capstone advisor was Elmer Grubbs. I went to him with my dilemma on the Braille screen and presented my new project idea. He gave his approval, and then I built the algorithm and coded the prototype for a couple of majors: computer engineering and one of the majors in the art department.
With this app, the student could determine which courses were required to graduate. If a student transferred from another university, then the advisor would add and map which courses from the institution of origin matched to equivalent courses at the UA. As information was added to the system, it became more intelligent.
What are some of the most rewarding moments?
Working with the students is energizing. It's exciting to see how brilliant engineering students are today. Their work ethic is amazing. I have full confidence that the future is in good hands, and I will be proud to hand over the reins to the younger generations.
Would you recommend the sponsor experience to other companies and alumni?
Absolutely, I believe the Interdisciplinary Capstone project approach is key to accelerating the pace of innovation and improving the future for subsequent generations.