Fourth-Year Design Project

In their final year at the University of Waterloo, Computer Engineering students work in teams to create a technically demanding and innovative design project. These eight-month projects are meant to test the skills and talents of engineering students, while giving students the opportunity to tackle real-world challenges. The project culminates with the annual Fourth-Year Design Project Symposium. This is a major event at Waterloo intended to showcase the finished projects to the general public, industry professionals and the media through an interactive booth and subsequent presentations, an environment similar to an industry trade show.

Project IRIS

The rise in popularity of GIS tools such as Google Maps has created an interest among the general public in high-altitude photography. In spite of this, current approaches to high-altitude photography (e.g., satellites and aircraft) are complex and so costly that only a select few companies can afford to operate them. This project presents the design of a high-altitude imaging system that utilizes a low-cost meteorological balloon to lift an imaging and communications system to an altitude of 100,000 feet and descend safely to Earth, to be reused.

The core of the payload is an embedded microprocessor module which controls the system’s main functions: wireless communication with ground control, image acquisition and navigation. In the course of its flight, the balloon maintains real-time communication with the ground control station, allowing an operator to issue new commands to the balloon for image acquisition and file transfer. Since the imaging system can track fixed points on the ground, the operator can send geographic coordinates for detailed imaging. In comparison to satellite imaging technologies, the system’s primary advantages are its dramatically lower cost, quick turn-around time and the fact that it can be launched and operated with minimal training and infrastructure.

The Technical Bits

This project is going to be an enormous combination of hardware and software design as well as a challenge to our project management capabilities. Our design document will be available for public viewing after March 24, 2010.