William Pfouts

Engineering Analysis, Fabrication, and Programming

This project required me to refine and polish my previous experiences and skills and create a design that could survive in an environment extremely damaging to electronics.

I was brought onto the team to solve two challenges simultaneously: to extend wireless service across an extensive acreage, and to create a solution that collected telemetry from chicken coops. The difficulty was that this was an extremely large area, where no permanent structures could be erected, due partially to the need to relocate the coops on the land to keep the grass fresh, and to ensure that the pivot on the field did not interfere with the buildings as it was operating.

The first portion of this was solved to the critical design review stage, by utilizing off the shelf hardware with DC inputs with off the shelf solar cells and batteries. All of these components were placed on a pole that increased height and visibility while leaving the entire apparatus capable of being transported around the fields as needed.

The second problem was more complex. A solar setup was placed on the roofs of the coops, with an interior cabinet vented to the outside of the coop providing a space for the batteries and inverter, as well as another Wi-Fi repeater. Besides powering light and heat, the coops were also to have sensors monitoring interior and exterior light and temperature levels, and interior VOCs and noise level. There was also space for further sensor upgrades.

In the first iteration changes to the system would have been made via a text file loaded onto an SD card, and output the data via email, while later versions may have an LED output and simple UI and buttons for changes without removing the card.
Although this design did not get beyond the preliminary design review, I am pleased with the work that was done, and being able to hand off a solution to their problem should they desire to continue forward with their plans.

With this project I learned the importance of environmental hardening, both standard and situational, and designing robustly for industrial applications. The skills learned here were primarily a refinement of techniques that I had already learned both inside and outside of school. While working at this job I was labelled as an Engineering Intern, however I was in a department of one and often had to work on my own recognizance. In this capacity I learned much of reverse engineering, especially in regard to the retrofitted electronics, Wi-Fi, and GPS added to a pivot nearly half a century old with little or no documentation.