Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State team aces project-in-a-box

April 29, 2015

Imagine being handed a box containing small electric motors, wires, switches, a toothbrush, paper clip, hair tie and beads, and told to make something. You can add items, but you have to use everything in the box.

A five-member team of Indiana State University technology students was more than up for the task, creating a small unmanned vehicle designed to take photos and video in spaces inaccessible to humans or at least difficult to reach.

Dubbed the "Aye Aye," for an animal with especially keen night vision, the device earned an "Above and Beyond" award for Josh Holmes of Bloomfield, Kassi Smith of Bedford, Brian Bailey of Robinson, Ill. and two students from Saudi Arabia, Hossam Alismail and Mustafa Almuhaishi.

"They added tremendously to the project in a box," said Edie Wittenmyer, electronics and computer engineering technology instructor. "They actually spent quite a bit of money themselves, getting the camera and doing a lot of programming. They showed that our students have the mentality, education and knowledge to put such a product together."

At first, the students in Wittenmyer's industrial computer systems project class didn't know what to make of the assignment.

"We were all very confused," said Holmes, a junior computer engineering technology major who served as team leader. "We had a lot of hype going into this that we had to make something, we have to pull together. We open it up and we have bits of wire, toothbrushes, some foam and two motors and we were like, ‘What should we do with this?'"

But once the students started talking and comparing their areas of expertise, their task became easy.

Three tires? No. Four would be more stable, the team concluded.

Headlights? Indeed. It's dark in crawlspaces, duct work and other locations where the Aye Aye would be used.

"Everything came together and it was due to this amazing team that we've got," said Bailey, a senior majoring in computer engineering technology and information technology who found a wireless controller for the Aye Aye and came up with the schematic for connecting the motors.

Making the team's accomplishment even more amazing was the fact that, prior to this assignment, the members knew one another only as fellow students in a class of more than 50 juniors, senior and graduate students.

That was by design, Wittenmyer said, noting it's the kind of thing students can expect in industry.

"The purpose of the project is project management and teamwork," she said. "It's bringing students who don't know each other together and forming a team ... and being able to use their creativity to form a company, write a mission statement, build something and write a user's manual. Everything that goes with project management is taught in this class."

While the students initially considered making a toy, Smith, a junior mechanical engineering technology major and the team's marketing director, hit on the idea of equipping the unmanned vehicle with video capability.

"We already have radio controlled cars that are toys so I thought maybe adding something else to it would give it more functionality and more of an important purpose," she said. "So I thought about just adding a vision system and that would act as an extension of sight that helps out a lot of people when they can't go into small areas."

Almuhaishi, a junior computer engineering technology major, was in charge of pricing each part.

"I tried to keep the price as minimal as possible," he said. "I picked a camera that was about $30 on the internet."

Almuhaishi called the project his best experience as an Indiana State student.

"The team (made it so)," he said. "We were cooperating, communicating all the time, sharing our ideas, listening to each other, building, taking apart and building (again)."

Alismail, a junior automation and control technology major who worked primarily on designing and building the vehicle, said he plans to immediately add the experience to his resume.

"When I go to any interview I will start talking about it," he said. "The teacher taught us many things, such as the Mind Map planning and project program for Microsoft. This organized our minds so everything became easy.

Wittenmyer "actually made us do something with our hands," added Smith. "She led us but didn't tell us the answers, ‘You guys do something but find out how to get there on your own.'"

In addition to creating and building the Aye Aye, the students also had to document their work and make a PowerPoint presentation promoting the product.

"We will need that experience in the future when industry has a new product coming out and is trying to ... debug it. "It's going to be really important to all of our futures. That's why we really enjoyed the class. We know how to problem solve better whenever we come into these circumstances."

Photo: - Students in an Indiana State University industrial computer systems project class designed and built an unmanned vehicle to take photos and video in small, dark spaces as part of a "project in a box" class assignment. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: - Indiana State University students (from left) Josh Holmes, Brian Bailey, Hossam Alismail, Kassi Smith and Mustafa Almuhaihi pose with the Aye Aye, an unmanned vehicle they designed and built for a "project in a box" assignment in an industrial computer systems project class. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Contact: Edie Wittenmyer, instructor, electronics and computer engineering technology, College of Technology, Indiana State University,

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or