Engineering Projects at the Haven of Academe - University of Witwatersrand

Discipline: BSc (Hons) Electrical & Information Engineering

My WITS Home

To God, our source, Lord, saviour and king. To my family for the legacy of education, the distinguished philosophy and the sustainable upbringing. To the Kasambas, my family away from my family for the humbling kindness, the comfort of home and the inexplicable hospitality. To the Hoffmanns for their availabilty in times of need, for the cherishable weekend socializing to cool my head off the mantle and the mentorship. To the fellow geeks at the WITS School of Electrical & Information Engineering for the academic insight, for the wickedly hilarious engineering-humoured jokes and for the life-long memories created and shared. And finally, to the professors and academics of the School of Electrical & Information Engineering for instilling a sustainable innovation-centred approach to problem solving, for being the source of encouragement, motivation and inspiration and for expertly moulding the engineer in me.

Efforts turned into achievements, difficulties into experience, tantrums into exciting memories, family's support into a lasting legacy and God's providence into thanksgiving.


The Autonomous Robot for Mining Applications

A mining application adapted explorer robot is presented. The aim of the project is to develop an autonomous robot that is able to move through unknown territory using image processing, sensors and control techniques; detect and avoid obstacles; map the environment in which it is placed and identify targets and control a robotic arm to accurately perform precision drilling on them. The application is in areas that may be either unsafe or unhealthy for humans in mines.

The autonomous navigation was programmed in C++ on the Player robot OS platform on the onboard Linux running machine. Image processing and target identification were done in MATLAB while target tracking and target drilling were performed using the robotic arm which was controlled by two 24 family microprocessors connected in a master-slave configuration. Communication between the laptop perfoming image processing and the microprocessors was achieved by serial communication. On the other hand, the communication between the laptop running image processing and the onboard computer running the navigation algorithm was done wirelessly.

Teamwork Credits: Edwin Rampine

The 2.4GHz Wi-Fi Antenna

The design, construction and testing of a 15-element Yagi-Uda 2.44 GHz WiFi high gain antenna. A method of varying both the element spacing and the element length was used to maximize gain and a coaxial balun was incorporated for impedance transformation and current balancing. SuperNEC was used to simulate the design and the gain comparison method was used for testing. The antenna attained a maximum gain of 15.3dBi, a VSWR of 1.05 and an input impedance of 52.5 + j0.7 at 2.44 GHz. The elevation and azimuth plane half-power beamwidths were 34 and 32 degrees respectively.

For the construction of the antenna, only a wooden plank, a coaxial cable and a few pieces of short, varying lengths wire were used. The antenna was tested at the Knockando WITS Residential Hall, overlooking the WITS Business School in Parktown, and was able to recieve Wi-Fi signals from the West Cliff Hotel, about 1.8km away! Were it not for their damn password, I would have sent them a "Hello World" message in binary! It felt terrific!

The RallyX Arcade Game

The RallyX is a maze driving arcade game that is inspired from the original game, "The Rally-X" released by Namco in 1980. It comprises a user-controlled player car that is chased by several enemy cars while it is attempting to collect all flag checkpoints around a maze. It does this by navigating around the maze while avoiding both the enemy car and rock obstacles. The enemy car is unmanned and automatically avoid rock obstacles, but are temporarily delayed by smoke screens emitted by the player car. The game is won by successfully collecting all flag checkpoints.

This game is implemented in ANSI/ISO object-oriented C++ programming using the Allegro graphics library. The game is restricted to sprites from the Allegro's drawing primitives. Neither libraries built on top of Allegro nor the use of OpenGL were permitted.

Teamwork Credits: Graham Peyton

Dual Invaders Arcade Game

Dual Invaders is a keyboard-driven, two-player version of Space Invaders. It consists of two armadas of aliens facing in opposite directions, and two laser cannons at either vertical end of the screen. The alien armadas move back-to-back from the screen centre towards the laser cannons. The objective of the player is to shoot the aliens with the laser cannons whilst avoiding alien shots and preventing an invasion. Alien firepower is pseudo-randomized and hence completely unpredictable. If the alien armadas invade the laser cannons or if one of either players is inadvertently shot, the game ends with a game status "LOST". The game is won by destroying all the aliens. The quicker the mission is achieved, the higher is score attained.

This game is implemented in ANSI/ISO object-oriented C++ programming using the Allegro graphics library. The game is restricted to sprites from the Allegro's drawing primitives. Neither libraries built on top of Allegro nor the use of OpenGL were permitted.

Teamwork Credits: Nkosinathi Nkosi

Heliotropic Solar-Powered Robotic Power Supply

The Design and Implementation of a standalone sun tracking solar-powered power supply. The archetype from which this project was adapted from is the interesting heliotropic behaviour of sunflowers.

This robotic feature incorporates a Maximum Power Point Tracker (MPPT) algorithm implemented on an 18F4321 40-pin flash based, 16 bit CMOS Microcontroller and a heliotropic support structure to facilitate the movement of the robot to optimize energy extraction efficiency of the Photo-Voltaic cells of the PV panel and to maximize the incident irradiation energy respectively. The basis of the solution is a DC-DC converter which is a Switch Mode Power Supply (SMPS) topology. The language used for the stepper motor is Assembly and that of the MPPT algorithm and the LCD is C.

The load output power is maintained at 3 Watts. The output current and voltage is shown on an LCD display. This system includes an over-current protection unit to ensure safety of the consumer product.

Teamwork Credits: Nkosinathi Nkosi, Edwin Rampine

Orbiter Rocket Engine Control

A typical NASA Rocket Control Paradigm. This project is about the Thrust Control System of a rocket launch into space. The basis of it is a pressure sensor that measures pressure and return a corresponding voltage that indirectly indicates the pressure and hence the height above the surface, from which the appropriate thrust that has to be applied for the injection of fuel into the gas fuel engines can be determined. The implementation is carried out using a PIC 16F690 20-Pin Flash-Based, 8-Bit CMOS Microcontroller.

Automated Electronic Car Parkade Gate Management System

The Design, Simulation and Implementation of a fully automated Electronic Car Parkade Management System. It utilizes optical sensors to detect cars coming in and out of demarcation and sends signals to open/close gates for a specified time (15 seconds in this case)and display the number of available parking spaces to drivers on an LCD screen at the entrance.

The breadboard circuit here is the actual system, composed of different independent subsystems. These include the Light Management, Gate Management, Power Supply and the whole intricate Logic System.

Teamwork Credits: Natasha Zlobinsky

The Water Clock

The hydraulic clock is a large clock that runs on water only. It utilizes the pressure water exerts that is directly proportional to its depth in a container. The water runs through a valve to rotate a turbine which in turn rotates a series of pulleys arranged to give the 1:60:60 ratio of the hours to minutes to seconds relationship in a clock. As the water depth decreases the pressure decreases and hence the speed at which the water runs the turbine decreases. This results in the clock speed slowing down., whic is not desired. To counteract this inconsistency, a valve was fitted at the bottom of the water container so that as the pressure of the water on the valve decreases, the valve opens up more and thus retaining a constant flowrate and consequently, a constant clock speed. As per the project requirements, no power tools were used and it had to display hours, minutes and seconds, and it had to be synchronous with an ordinary clock. This was my first project at Wits, and it was pure adventure!

Teamwork Credits: Natasha Zlobinsky, David Way

For pictures on Graduation, Open Day, 2012 Class Photos and more: Pictorial Adventures
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Author: Mpendulo Ndlovu

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