Electrical Engineering Practicum: A Method for Improving Restaurant Beverage Refill Rates Using an Intelligent Coaster System; Swarm Robotics: Nature-Inspired Design and Error-Detection in Autonomous Behavior

Kramer, Taylor, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Gorman, Michael, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec/Computer Engr Dept, University of Virginia

My thesis portfolio, through both the technical paper and the STS research paper, puts a focus on intelligent systems within electrical and computer engineering. The technical report introduces the “Smart Coaster” as an electronic addition to a restaurant’s server-to-patron interactions. My team’s main goal was to provide a device which boosts drink refill rates and increases customer satisfaction. We accomplish this through a drink coaster which senses a cup’s liquid level and automatically communicates refill requests to a central waitstaff station when appropriate. This project introduces new sensing, computing, and communication to a problem area where there was no key electronic device before.

In comparison, my STS research paper focuses instead on the topic of expanding the sensing, computing, and communication power in existing groups of devices. Specifically, my paper covers research into the domain of swarm robotics, which is an emerging field of autonomous robotics. Interdisciplinary in nature, this area is highly bio-inspired by the swarming behavior of insects, and is chiefly characterized by large quantities of simple robots working together on a task in a decentralized control structure. Although swarm robotics could provide innovative solutions to complex problem spaces within robotics, this new technology could create problems of its own if ethical and security concerns are not addressed during the field’s development. This ethical work is the responsibility of both the stakeholders and the engineers, because adequate coverage of system vulnerabilities is instrumental in preventing ethical concerns from arising in the future. The analysis in my paper is done with a mindset of looking towards the future of swarm robotics. Mainly, this involves the potential application into swarms of autonomous vehicles, where any small security flaw or ethical concern may be magnified due to the potential for widespread use of the cars and deep impact of even one mistake.

Overall, although my two papers cover separate and distinct topics, they complement each other as research into intelligent system applications within the field of electrical and computer engineering. Additionally, both topics serve as starting points for discussion into the future of interconnected devices, from internet-of-things (IoT) to machine learning and autonomous vehicles.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Anticipatory Governance, Trading Zones, Swarm, Robots, Drink Coaster

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS Advisor: Michael Gorman
Technical Team Members: Daniel Ayoub, William Define, Adam El-Sheik, James Garcia-Otero

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