Course Profile

Goals of the Course

Design of innovative smart electro-mechanical devices and products that are technically feasible, economically viable, and desired by customers. Topics include a review of basic mechanical/electrical/software design/prototyping, the synthesis of functional systems that solve a customer need, and structured design methodologies from the fields of systems engineering, concurrent design and project/business management. Designs are developed in the context of a cost-constrained business environment. Several aggressive team projects are performed with an industry judging panel for the final project. 

Who is it designed for?

This course is for junior and senior level students. It is a technical elective for mechanical engineers. Enrollment is controlled in order to have a class with students from diverse majors.

Learning Objectives

This class introduces students to the many technical, process and business aspects of the development of smart products. The course starts with an introduction to simple component-level mechanical, electrical and software technologies and methods for exploiting these technologies in the synthesis of cost-effective smart products. Students learn techniques for identifying customer need in order to define the scope of their design as well as methods for verifying that an implemented design does, in fact, satisfy its design requirements. Students gain exposure to business-related aspects of product development, such as pricing, marketing, and supply chains, and they explore techniques for understanding the broader societal impacts of technical products and services. Many of the learning objectives are achieved through team-based hands-on development of simple but real functional products.

Maker skills it develops

Learning outcomes from this course include:

Apply basic mechanical, electrical, software principles to select, size and apply system components in an appropriate manner (assessed via homework assignment)

Synthesize simple electromechanical devices with embedded processors (e.g., a “smart product”) to meet functional requirements (assessed via laboratory exercise and project)

Apply methodologies from the areas of project management, systems engineering, and concurrent design in order to develop a simple system (assessed via homework and project)

Successfully develop a simple product by using an understanding of customer needs to motivate the methodical development of a smart product from both technical and a business perspectives (assessed via project)


Students are required to have core foundation-level natural science and mathematics, or equivalent along with instructor permission.

Skills, Tools and Technologies Used

The students are taught basic mechanical/electrical/software design principles, techniques and tools. Mechanical prototypes rely on the use of CAD, 3D printers, laser cutters, etc. Electrical prototypes rely on CAD, proto-boarding, and circuit board fabrication. Software prototypes use simple microcontrollers and integrated development environments. Prototypes across these three areas are integrated into single customer-oriented products, verified via engineering test equipment, and validated via customer use and feedback.

Key Examples and Prior Work

Students use our School’s Maker Lab, which is equipped in the tradition of the Maker movement. Hands on work includes the use of 3D printers, laser cutters, circuit board mills, and inexpensive embedded processors.

Key Resources

Key resources include instructor lecture notes, lab guides/tutorials, and open source references ranging from microcontroller use to the development of business models.

Example Assignment

Students develop a functional prototype of a prototype ‘smart product’ based on a specifically identified customer/market; examples have included a vending machine or a restaurant pager. The products are often items that have simple baseline implementations for which significant innovative add-ons or ecosystems can be functionally developed and integrated into the product business model. For example, the restaurant pager must certainly page a customer when their table is ready. That said, extensions to the system are promoted as well, such as a) a trivia display capability in order to have customers win a drink thereby getting them to spend money in the restaurant bar, b) an ordering system such that customers keep their pagers and then use it at their table to page their waiter and order equipment, and c) use the pager as the front end of a comprehensive table management and analytics system, thereby generating significant follow-on sales and revenue.

Lessons Learned

Students are eager to learn hands on skills and apply formal design and engineering techniques/skills to the development of customer-oriented products and services.