Throughout my four years at USC, I’ve gotten to take some awesome classes. Outside of engineering, I’d have to say my favorite class has been a Film Symposium course on Alfred Hitchcock (through the Cinema School) taught by Dr. Drew Casper, one of the world’s foremost experts on his work. It was an awesome introduction to one of the best directors/producers that has ever lived, and I got to see a ton of great films as well. However, the coolest class that I have taken here at USC is AME 441: Senior Projects Laboratory.

The aim of the course is to introduce students to some of the basic ideas of experimental work and the responsibilities of an industrial research project. Students can work individually or in groups of two on a project of their choice for the entire semester, and topics for these projects can be provided by the students themselves or selected from a number of ideas suggested by the faculty.

For the project, my partner and I worked with the US Olympic Cycling Team to develop a wireless pedaling force measurement system. The US Olympic Committee actually requested a few different projects from the class (kayaking paddle force and tripod for continuous tracking and panning, along with our project), but our interest in cycling led us to pick pedaling force. Our design implemented a strain gauge/Wheatstone bridge setup to measure pedal bending, and recorded and reported this data using an Arduino Uno microprocessor.

Arduino Uno, Op-amp, and Wheatstone bridge setup

We ran into some issues along the way, including a stolen testing bike and circuitry problems, but by the end of the semester we successfully performed the static calibration of our strain gauges and implemented the system onto an actual bicycle. The results of our project provided us with an interesting look into the forces that are exerted into the pedals during the pedaling cycle, and it was an awesome way to apply some of the concepts we learned in class to a real world experiment. Additionally, working with the US Olympic Cycling Team was a great opportunity to network with members of the organization.