Project Success

Capstone Design

Nearly two hundred capstone projects have been successfully completed over the life of the program. Some have become marketable products and several more are in various stages of determining their marketability.  

Several recent projects have received national and international recognition including multiple first and second place awards in government and industry sponsored competitions. Some recent examples include:

  • 1st Place in the 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012 NASA Rocket Launch Competition
  • 1st place in the 2012 AFRL Design competition
  • 1st and 2nd place in the 2013 AFRL Design competition

Projects in Capstone I for Spring 2010 included a Marsian CO2 Condenser, a wheelchair to car trunk loader, improving speed in a human powered vehicle, a calibrated heat flux generator, a wheelchair to under car creeper, redesign of an articulating arm, a fuselage for a human powered airplane, a wind powered vehicle-land yacht, and the designing and testing of the MAE Lunar Lander project.

Capstone design projects change from year to year, often depending upon student interest, industry partners, and available funding. The following list shows sample projects from previous semesters.


Senior Design Projects Fall 11

Custom Shipping Container for a Mobile Modular Sound Booth+

Custom-built shipping containers are required for use in the transportation of mobile modular sound booths used by translators in settings throughout the world. These containers protect the booths from damage during shipping. The container’s mobility allows translators to maneuver their panels to specific locations where they can then assemble their booths. U.S. Translation Company, based in Utah, provides translation services all over the world. U.S. Translation commissioned the MAE team to design and build a container prototype. Their overall goal was to have students produce a container design with which they could begin manufacturing containers and booths in the United States.

Robotic Buffering Cell+

3rd Gen Machine creates many aluminum parts for customers using a CNC machine. Each part produced goes through a smoothing process and hole countersinking. This process is currently performed manually. 3rd Gen asked MAE capstone design students to design a programmable robotic buffering cell to accomplish this process automatically to improve production efficiency. The task included designing and building a buffer cell that could smooth the edges and countersink existing holes in small machined parts.

Wheelchair Lifting Device+

For those who are wheelchair dependent, transporting a wheelchair can be inconvenient and difficult. In an ongoing project since spring 2009, the Disability Resource Center’s Assistive Technology Laboratory at Utah State University has coordinated with the MAE students to solve the problems of lifting a wheelchairs in different settings. Four senior design teams have been tasked with designing a mechanism that can load a wheelchair into the trunk of a car. Past year’s teams have successfully designed the mechanics, and current MAE students are making previous teams’ design into a manufacturable, versatile, durable, safe, and marketable product.

The intended user for the wheelchair lift is not the wheelchair user; rather, the lift user may be an elderly spouse or other person with limited mobility and strength who wouldn't be able to lift the wheelchair into the trunk unassisted. Safety, durability, reliability, and affordability have been key considerations in the project.

All Terrain Wheelchair+

In many third world countries, people may live at the edge of poverty. They focus on the bare essentials of life: food, water, shelter, and clothing. Often, people in these areas don’t have enough money for materials outside of essentials, and the disabled living in these areas suffer from limited or no resources to buy goods or services for their needs—even such basics as wheelchairs. This can turn into a life spent with very limited mobility. The problem that the USU Assisted Living (AL) Laboratory observes is that wheelchairs designed for indoors or flat developed surfaces don’t last in third world conditions where most travel is done on a dirt path or similar. The AL asked MAE design students to come up with a wheelchair to handle all terrain conditions.

Translation Booth+

Translation booths are used at professional conferences, conventions, or anywhere else language interpretation is needed. Because these booths are shipped to and from various locations, shipping prices can be very expensive. The translation booth design project arose from the need to save money on high shipping costs from transporting a heavy booth with two cases. MAE students teamed up with U.S. Translation Company to design a new translation booth as part of the Capstone Design class. The design proposed and developed resulted in a significant reduction in weight compared to the current translation booths.

This semester’s team focused on building a working prototype, presenting the prototype to U.S. Translation Company, and preparing a poster to summarize the project. The design would allow U.S. Translation to become the third company in the world (two others are in Belgium and Canada) to produce these mobile translation booths; current booths being produced will be far outdated compared to the new booth design.

Vacuum Chamber+

This vacuum chamber will be used for a variety of research projects requiring a simulation of low pressure environments, including for analysis of material properties, liquefying CO2, and testing small satellites.  The student team designed and built a vacuum system capable of holding a vacuum of at least 10-3 Torr with the ability to heat or cool an internal platform to ±100 C.  Internal pressure and temperatures can be accurately measured with the integrated gage and feedthroughs. Electrical power is available to internal instrumentation. The vacuum system is optimal for the intended research needs.

Mini-Baja CVT+

(Spring 2010 - Fall 2010) The Mini-Baja team at Utah State University is required by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to cover some mechanical components for safety reasons. This requirement would include the Mini-Baja's continuously variable transmission (CVT). A CVT is a transmission that can fluidly change through gear ratios. The CVT allows a driving shaft to maintain a constant angular velocity over a range of output velocities, which helps optimize performance and allows a wide spectrum of gear ratios while making the vehicle easy to operate. The team was assigned to complete the task of designing and building a CVT cover that complies with SAE rules (i.e., any component with RPM equal to or greater than the drive shaft must be covered to prevent accident or injury in the event of failure).

Selective Spectrum Light Source+


(Spring 2010) Algae are among the fastest growing plants in the world, and, with some strains, 60 percent of their dry weight is lipids from which oil can be produced. The oil that is produced can be used to make biodiesel for cars, trucks, and airplanes. The objective of this design was to create an artificial light source with selective spectral intervals to be used for the growing of algae in vertical tubes called bioreactors. The area of these test tubes for illumination is 22 inches tall by 2 inches wide. The design's intent was that growth experiments could be performed to see how algae growth is affected by different spectral ranges. Positive results of such experiments may lead to more effectively growing the plant that may one day become a large source of the planet's energy.

Wheelchair Lift Device (WCLD)+


(Spring 2009 - Fall 2011) The design of a wheel chair lift to fit in the trunk of a sedan was commissioned by Utah State University's Assistive Technology Laboratory. The intended user for the wheelchair lift was not the wheelchair user; rather, the lift user may be an elderly spouse or other person with limited mobility and strength who wouldn't be able to lift the wheelchair into the trunk unassisted. Safety and affordability were also considered in the project.

Motorcycle Engine Dyno+

(Spring 2010) In order to better understand the dynamics of a 920cc motorcycle engine and further test experimental results and calculations, this project continued from one started prior in an MAE 5930 Kinematics class, The team disassembled, measured, analyzed, and reassembled the engine . To determine the horsepower and torque as functions of time, a water brake dynamometer was used in conjunction with a load cell and an rpm sensor to provide the data necessary to calculate horsepower and torque as a function of rpm. The team also designed stands to support the engine and dynamometer during their operation. The dynamometer stand needed to incorporate the load cell, which had to be accurately placed in reference to the dynamometer. The design also needed to be versatile enough to accommodate multiple types of engines. Analyses of the static and dynamic abilities of the stands were performed in order to optimize material usage and safety.

Algae Raceway Experimental Analysis+

(Spring 2010) Algae raceways are designed to provide an environment for growing algae, which produce a by-product that can be used for manufacturing biodiesel. By maximizing the algae growth, it is theoretically possible to produce enough by-products to be a viable source of renewable energy. However, in order to maximize growth, the algae need constant light and dark cycles in the water, which means that all the cells need to spend equal amounts of time exposed to the sunlight and darkness. This design project included designing and testing a possible method of obtaining greater vertical mixing, decreased backflow, and constant power consumption in an algae raceway.

Heat Flux Team+

(Spring 2010 - Fall 2010) Heat flux sensors can be used to measure the amount of heat flowing through a material when attached to the surface of an object. The sensors are generally small and only measure the amount of heat flow through the area the sensor covers. Sensors made by Omega, however, claim to be able to accurately measure the heat flux through the wall. The outcome of this project would determine the heat flux in a system and compare that to the value measured by the Omega sensor to know how accurate it really is, especially when the value is being propagated through other calculations. The project provided the USU Thermal Fluids laboratory with verification of the heat flux produced by building an apparatus to supply a known heat flux with less than a 5% uncertainty. The apparatus was tested against the commercially manufactured heat flux sensor to verify the accuracy of heat flux measured in the system.

Mini-Baja Engine Test Stand Report+

MAE students have the opportunity to participate on the Mini-Baja design and racing team. Measuring torque and power of a small engine with an eddy brake dynamometer would help the team optimize the assembly's design and increase the engine's capability. The specification that is most important for optimization is torque. The eddy brake dynamometer was used to gather data about torque to help the Mini�Baja team place higher in the annual competition.

Previous Design Competitions

Often, students senior design projects may be engaged as part of regional and national design competitions. Which competitions student enter in any given year may change depending upon student interest and available funding. The following list shows example of past and current design competitions.

AIAA Design Build Fly+

AIAA (1996 - 2005) Design, Build, Fly is an annual international competition sponsored by AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics), and Cessna. Each year universities are invited to design, construct, and demonstrate the flight capabilities of an unmanned, radio controlled aircraft that can complete missions predetermined by the contest organizers. The contest offers a real-world aircraft design experience for engineering students. The Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department at Utah State University has had a strong tradition of success in this competition.


Mini Baja(Present) Baja is an intercollegiate engineering design competition for engineering students. Each team's goal is to design and build a prototype of a rugged, single seat, off-road recreational vehicle intended for sale to the non-professional weekend off-road enthusiast. The vehicle must be safe, easily transported, easily maintained, and fun to drive. It should be able to negotiate rough terrain in all types of weather without damage. The Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at Utah State University has been competing for the last several years and has enjoyed many successes.

Project Homepage: Baja

Chimaera Hybrid Rocket+

(Present) The Chimaera Hybrid Rocket project involves students from freshman to graduate students in hybrid rockets at the Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range in the west desert. Students participate in an annual competition with other universities, launching, and recovering rockets with 300 to 3,000 pounds of thrust and 10-20 feet long. The Chimaera student team won first place in the NASA sponsored competition in both 2008 and 2009 and were treated to the entire team attending a space shuttle launch as part of the grand prize.

Electric Snowmobile+

Electric SnowmobileClean Snowmobile Challenge™ is an intercollegiate engineering design competition that challenges engineering students to reengineer an existing snowmobile for improved emissions and noise while maintaining or improving the performance characteristics of the original snowmobile. The modified snowmobiles are also expected to be cost-effective.

The Great Moonbuggy Race+

Moon BuggyThe Great Moonbuggy Race is a competition sponsored by NASA and AIAA. The contest is held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Each year students from around the United States design and build human powered lunar vehicles. These teams are then judged on design, assembly time, and size. Each Moonbuggy is driven by two students, one female and one male. The course includes over a half-mile lunar terrain simulated by "craters", rocks, "lava" ridges, inclines, and "lunar" soil.