Project f-Spell!

In: Project

By Bakshi Gulam

1 May 2012

It was unusual – to hear buzzwords from electronic jargon like GSM, GPRS, GPS,  Optical Fiber, Wi-Fi, Wi-Max, Bluetooth, etc. from our own classmates…

It was unusual – to see people like things like FPGA, OFDM, MIMO, CAN, I2C, etc. on Facebook instead of artists, sports stars and other interesting things…

It was unusual – to notice the last bench guys talking about Nano Technology, Robotics, Image Processing, VLSI and other similar stuffs!

What could be the reason for this “Climate Change!”? Any Guess?? Could it be due to their passion for engineering and technology? Or could it be due to their keen interest on exploring various disciplines of Engineering? Or could it be due to their thrust for knowledge? :-P

Nay! It wasn’t any of the above guesses!! But it was the time to kick start their Final Year Project. Only because of this reason all had acquired this “project-mania” – sorry “project-phobia”! (An anxiety disorder characterized by extreme and irrational fear of completing the project or managing the project-reviews.) :-P

We too were put into the same situation where we had to frame some project proposal and get it approved by the panel members. There were two major branch-outs in front of us!

  1. Doing the Project (of course on our own)
  2. Getting it done (by some project centre) :-P

I preferred the second choice (most of my classmates will not believe this – but it was the truth). There were two reasons behind that decision.

  1. I was already upset trying many things (TGMC is worth mentioning here) on my own and abandoned it mid-way…
  2. I felt again this time it wasn’t worth risk-taking…

But other team-mates were stubborn in doing the project on their own. I too was stubborn in getting it done by some project centre. :-P We dragged two weeks thinking “to do on our own? or to go to project center?”

At last, Aparajith (one of my team-mates; of-course our team-lead) convinced me saying that

“Final Year project is very important in our career. Even we can speak proudly about this to our kids in future. :-P Instead, if you buy it, you won’t have anything to speak proudly. “

Then I told, “Okay! But I’ll work only for a month. Get whatever you want to get it done by me before the deadline.” He too agreed and added “If there is no progress for one month, we will quit and buy some ready-made project from some project centre.”

We didn’t know from where to start the project. So, to be in the safer side, we started with software part. But we had to familiarize ourselves with the embedded environment (esp. MSP430) before starting the actual coding. It took two days for us to recap the basics of MSP430 (TI’s low power MCU) and IAR Embedded Workbench (the IDE). We weren’t familiar of Embedded-C at that time. But still we managed to create a Header File for managing the LCD display the very next day. And tested it working fine too. :D Then within a week’s time we completed the other software modules namely Timers, Display, MCU Initialization etc. Everything went fine and we were happy about it and became confident too! :D

The next big deal was the hardware part. Of course, the bitter part :-P Being an Electronics student, I feel ashamed to make this statement. But I can only blame the education system. The theoretical things we study in books often fail to extend a helping hand when it comes to practical design. (I remember a Tamil proverb: ஏட்டுச்சுரைக்காய் கறிக்கு உதவாது.) The 8085/86 practical classes also don’t help us while designing an practical embedded system.

Anyhow this time we had to do it. No other go. I suggested that we could get help from someone. But Aparajith told, first we should,at least, draw the schematics of our project before seeking help from someone. And he initiated the design by creating an OrCAD library for MSP430(F2274). Then he became busy in GATE preparations. So I had to complete the schematics and I did it. It took 20 days for me to arrive at a final design! Ya! It was Version-10,Revision-3 at last!! We tried to get it verified by some expert but it too went in vain. So we finalised the schematics ourselves. :-P

Next the search for PCB Design & Fabrication company was started! I made a very big list of PCB fabrication companies and started sending mails and making calls to find the one that suits us(in terms of money and time). Many were not willing to undertake student project as they felt that it wasn’t profitable. (If they do the same design for some companies, they make 100s or 1000s of PCBs out of it. But it’s not the case if it is a student project.) Those who told they can do, charged as high as 6500+/7500+ INR.

At last we found one company who agreed to do it within a week’s time. So we gave the schematics to them and waited for the PCB to be done. But things didn’t go well as we planned. They starting giving ‘reasons’ -

  • “Your design is not as easy as we thought first. I think we may have to go for double side design instead of single side.”
  • “Even for double side, placing components within the given dimensions seems to be tedious. Anyway we’ll see what can be done.”
  • “Frequent power-cuts affects our production schedule very badly. We couldn’t predict anything in advance.”
  • “We have sent your board to Bangalore for some final finishing works. We’ll let you know once the board has arrived.” etc. etc.

But we knew that the only reason for delay was “Our project had been given the least priority in their schedule”. Hence delivery of the PCB was delayed from 7days to 31days (i.e. from one week to one month). This unexpected delay devastated our plans, schedule everything. :(

We had ordered the components parallelly. So we could go the assembly unit the very next day we got our PCB in hands. There we found the assembly people to be completely unaware of the technical things regarding Surface Mount Technology (like package info., etc.). So we created a Bill of Materials (BOM) and gave it to them. We were asked to come and collect the assembled board the next day.

Another shock was awaiting us when we reached the assembly unit the next morning. They told the package type of one of the ICs didn’t match with that of the PCB solder layer in the Main Board. Moreover they hadn’t touched the Sensor Boards. When we asked “Why?”, they told they had to make Solder Stencil in order to solder that IC and making a Solder Stencil for 5 Sensor Boards is quite costly that we couldn’t afford it.

Meanwhile, we had to manage the project reviews in the college. All panel members started asking,

  • “Why you haven’t completed your project? By this time you should be ready with the hardware at least. Isn’t it?”
  • “At first, you were very fast. What happened to you now? Why there is no progress since the last review?”

We were much worried and thought we were finished.

But still we didn’t loose hope. We approached a Bangalore based Electronics Manufacturing Service provider for the assembly of our sensor boards.  They agreed to do it. We asked them to complete it as soon as possible and returned Chennai. They had asked for a week’s time. Meanwhile we tested our Main Board and found it not working. It was again another disaster in our project.

Meanwhile my stomach ulcer got intensified after the Bangalore trip. So I had to leave for my native for medication. I handed everything over to Aparajith and left Chennai. Exactly in one week’s time, he got the sensor boards from Bangalore. Fortunately those were working. :) Then next two weeks he worked very hard. He bought ATmega32 Microcontroller and soldered it in a General Purpose board to substitute the faulty Main Board we had.

I returned to Chennai after two weeks. By that time they had finished the hardware and was calibrating the glove. We had our final project review in 3 or 4 days. So I started preparing the Project Report. They completed the calibration and finally it was working!

Four months back, when we started, they wanted to do it on their own and now they have done it! Hats-off to my batchmates!! (Aparajita & Aswathy)

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This is Bakshi Gulam. I’m a programmer, a blogger and an open-source lover interested in anything related to computer systems. Click here to read my bio.

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