Staying Connected

By Susan Robertson

Photos By Yvette Gooden

Staying Connected article header.

Seniors Kevin McGinnity, left, and Katherine Clayton test internet speed, latency and reliability of the deployed wi-fi network.

The University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services (CIS) works closely with the UT Knoxville Tickle College of Engineering to bring solutions to clients’ problems. One of the ways they do so is by helping to identify projects that senior undergraduate engineering students can solve as their senior design or capstone project.

One of these projects, Light Tower Chain, was with Signal Power in Chattanooga. The project is aimed at bringing affordable and reliable internet service to rural America for daily use as well as outdoor concerts and disaster-response situations.

Signal Power President Doug Zukowski said George Aslinger, a CIS solutions consultant, and the UT Center for Industrial Services have been an amazing resource for the company.

“George’s work to team Signal Power with a senior design project at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Tickle College of Engineering may change our company in ways that we never imagined,” Zukowski says. “We had a technology challenge that we looked to adapt to and advance but lacked the internal engineering capability to see it through. Working with UT gave us not only a fresh set of ideas but gave us the ability to bring this technology to market.”

Tickle College of Engineering senior Hans Perry, left, and Signal Power President Doug Zukowski fasten an access point to a Signal Power Hybrid Light Tower.
Tickle College of Engineering senior Hans Perry, left, and Signal Power President Doug Zukowski fasten an access point to a Signal Power Hybrid Light Tower.

CIS looks to the Tickle College of Engineering as well as at the individual department level to research projects for different companies. College-level projects are called Integrated Senior Design, and those student teams produce a series of technical deliverables in parallel with learning a systems engineering-based development process and honing skills needed for professional practice, including delivery of preliminary, system-level and final design reports with presentations. The teams also demonstrate prototype systems, and the projects include consideration of finances, with an expectation of a supporting business case and potentially a business plan.

“We connect our customers with various resources to help them solve their problems,” Aslinger said. “The faculty and students at the university are one of those valuable resources. This project helped our customer explore an unexpected market by bringing broadband to a rural area, and the students received practical experience in the process.”

CIS also provided support to several projects within the Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISE) Department, including working with Signal Power to help broaden internet access in Roane County. Students focused on signal optimization in the county, analysis of the operation, installation of the system and its long-term economic feasibility. The students created a low-cost, portable wi-fi that could be deployed in the event of natural disasters and outages. The result of their work was a device that is small enough to be portable and much more affordable than running new internet cables.

“Some 6,300 Roane County Schools and home-schooled students do not have access to robust, reliable and affordable broadband internet,” said Nathaniel Sexton, ISE student and project leader. “They have options available, but these options aren’t reliable or affordable for most people.”
While this particular project was in Roane County, it can be replicated in rural areas across Tennessee, Zukowski said.

“Senior design projects are intensive, comprehensive, require team work and involve real-world problems experienced by companies and entrepreneurs,” says Bill Hicks, a solutions consultant with CIS and instructor with the UTK Tickle College of Engineering.

David Goddard with the Tickle College of Engineering and George Aslinger with CIS contributed to this story.