ESET capstone team wins 2016 Texas Instruments Innovation Challenge


Acceleration is defined as an increase in the rate or speed of an object, specifically the rate of change of velocity per unit of time. For four students in the Electronic Systems Engineering Technology (ESET) program at Texas A&M University, DVDT is not only the formula for acceleration, but also a capstone project moniker created from each of their names: Dakotah Karrer, Vince Rodriguez, David Smith and Trent Tate.

On Tuesday evening, DVDT accelerated past nearly 180 teams from around the nation to win the 2016 Texas Instruments Innovation Challenge.

"They are the gold standard," said Dr. Joseph Morgan, professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution and capstone course director. “In [ESET], what we're trying to do is create an experiential education, so our undergraduate students learn by doing."

By working in a team environment with every member having a leadership role, students are able to gain tangible industry experience. For its ESET senior capstone project, which must find a solution to a real industry problem, DVDT successfully created and launched a communications platform for cube satellite technology (TSAT) in low-earth orbit.

Not only did the team solve the problem, it was able to create a system that can transmit communications over 10 times the largest distances tested by other manufacturers. 

Matt Leonard, T STAR president and DVDT's industry client, says that the project will go well beyond an experimental demonstration.

"We're going to be able to take this capability, move it into the commercial sector and launch TSATs into low-earth orbit that I think are going to be amazing based on what [DVDT] has done. 

ESET's home department, Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution (ETID), prides itself in both fostering a hands-on environment and helping students find successful careers with its variety of industry connections.

Part-time ESET professor and Chief Technology Officer of Paragon Innovations H. Michael Wiley, who also serves as DVDT’s technical adviser, shared his thoughts shortly after DVDT was presented with the winning $10,000 check from Texas Instruments. 

"[ETID] doesn't take it (education) just as an academic exercise,” Wiley said. “This department really is serious about making sure that the students we graduate have an understanding of what the real world is like for engineers, giving them a great background in it."

Since the project began in summer 2015, DVDT has been selected as the highest placing capstone team at the 2016 Engineering Project Showcase, the winner of Mays Business School’s 2016 Raymond Ideas Challenge and now the best design project in the national Texas Instruments 2016 Innovation Challenge.

For each of the members on the team, this win highlights a successful transition from Texas A&M to the beginning of their respective careers.

Tate, project manager for DVDT, graduated in May and is now a part of the technical sales rotation program for Texas Instruments and may join the group permanently in early 2017.  Smith, the project test engineer, also graduated in the spring and is currently pursuing a commission with the United States Air Force, hoping to work in satellite communications.

Rodriguez, the software engineer and a May graduate, accepted and started a position with Texas Instruments' application rotation program in June. Karrer, the hardware engineer and currently a senior planning to graduate in December, is now an intern with Texas Instruments and hopes to join full time once he finishes school.

Each team member expressed gratitude not only for the advisers and sponsors who helped along the way, but also for the opportunity ETID and ESET were able to provide.

Tate encouraged future students to look at all of the materials provided throughout the capstone experience, and "pursue working with your advisers and [sponsors]."

Smith stressed the importance of ETID's industry relationships, saying, "The connection between ETID and TI was a very strong one; we knew that we could contact TI and get immediate help."

For Rodriguez, being able to bring ESET into the spotlight brings him great satisfaction.

"Not a lot of things are known about our major, and I feel like this has brought to light the sort of things that our students are capable of," he said. 

Karrer had similar feelings about the program.

"The opportunities that there are in ESET are just phenomenal,” he said. “They set the bar high, and you have to shoot above that."

Read more about the team’s journey and witness the entire saga via their online documentary.