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New beginnings

As we are nearing the end of the academic year, we have once again reached that bitter-sweet time when we mark the end of a four-year journey with our final-year students. For 10 of the Electrical and Electronic Engineering students, it also marks the end of a year of hard-work under the supervision of various academics of the Department of Systems and Control Engineering.


The projects undertaken by these students were different in nature, involving transportation, health, document engineering, finance, control engineering, and robotics. Although the application areas were varied, the task set to the students was broadly similar: they had to use the knowledge and skills obtained from various sources throughout the course to understand a new problem and find a feasible solution to it. Thus the beauty of Engineering

The Department's students and supervisors after a mock trial of their project presentations. Back row, left to right: Andrew G., Gaetano, Andrew P., Aiden, Luca, Samwel. Front row, left to right: Darren, Davide, Kenneth S., Alexandra, Neil, Kenneth C., Luana, Jacob, Cheryl, Marvin, Stefania and Simon. Absent: Erika and Tracey.

 

What are the final year projects? Dr Tracey Camilleri explains:


Every year the academic staff members propose a number of projects that can be carried out as final year projects. Students at third year level are then asked to rank their top five preferred projects and by June they will know which project they will embark on in the following year. It’s an exciting process for the students who are eager to know which project is assigned to them, but no less for the academic staff who are also eager to see which projects have been selected and hence which research areas will be taken forward in the coming year.


Most students typically start working on their projects one or two months before the beginning of the scholastic year. This is not obligatory but many prefer having a head start before the year begins, at which point they will also need to attend lectures, carry out assignments and prepare for the examination sessions. All these commitments and deliverables do not make the fourth and final year an easy one, but the students are well trained by this time; time management and handling various tasks professionally are skills that are vital for their future career.


Once the students start working on their projects, they have regular weekly meetings with their supervisor – the same academic who proposed the project. The supervisor is there to follow the student’s progress, assist in addressing the challenges that are faced along the way and ensure that the student can reach the project’s aims successfully. By mid-May the students would have to summarise a whole year’s worth of work into 90 pages to present what is known as the dissertation. At the beginning of the project, writing the dissertation seems like a daunting task and 90 pages seem too much to fill, but by the end of the project many realise that the hardest part is trying to squeeze all the work done in this limited number of pages.


At the end, however, it’s a pleasure reading through these dissertations and realising how much our students have actually achieved. It’s the biggest project the students carry out within their undergraduate course and most often it’s the main topic of discussion during the forthcoming job interviews. External examiners, who also get to see a sample of these final year project dissertations, always have words of praise for the work carried out by our students – a certificate reflecting the dedication of the academic and technical staff, the commitment and hard work of the students, and the quality of the course being offered by the Faculty; a four year course which prepares the students well to become the engineers that our society is eagerly waiting for, year in, year out.

 

The students' perspective:


Our experience at the Faculty of Engineering has been fun, challenging and at times, stressful. With the pandemic disrupting us half way through our second year of studies, we were faced with a new learning experience. We were forced to abandon the laboratories which had turned into a second home for us, giving us a new sense of independence, which was at times scary. With the help of our lecturers, who became our mentors during such a trying time, we pushed through the pandemic and made it to the final year, which brought some sense of normality back to our studies. The casual conversations we have had over the years reveal the reasons for the general attraction of the cohort towards the Department of Systems and Control. Not only did this Department allow us to study and experiment with cutting edge technologies, it allowed us to explore in a supportive environment. It was encouraging to feel seen and heard during such an intensive course, which could otherwise be sometimes tiring. In my opinion, one of the nicest things about studying Engineering, has been the diversity in the knowledge produced. Oftentimes, we shared elective study units, and yet, each one of us has chosen a different research area for their dissertation. My colleagues at the Department of Systems and Control have touched upon robotics; building pacesetting mobile robots, remote controls for electronic wheelchairs and modelling and simulating robotic hot-wire cutters. Other projects involved using electroencephalography (EEG) brain signals to develop a brain computer interface to control devices, designing and implementing a miniature Stewart platform and control system, and building an IoT-based air quality monitoring system. At another end of the wide spectrum that it is systems and control, students have developed algorithms to detect traffic events from social media data, algorithms to identify optimal investment strategies, 3D interpretation tools for paper-based drawings, and algorithms to identify various page objects within scientific documents. The beauty of these projects is that they are all applied - they aim towards solving problems which real people who live in the real world face on a daily basis. The spirit of the Department is fun and fresh, bringing new life to engineering at every opportunity. Our supervisors were nothing but kind to us while we were working with them, answering our questions and emails, and soothing our anxiety of the unknown with stories of their past experiences in research and of their past students. For this, we express sincere gratitude towards them. I sincerely look forward to meeting with students from my cohort in the future. I am confident that with the knowledge and skills we have, whether in research or in industry, success stories are to follow.

 

A message from the head of department:


I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and learn from our students in different times throughout their journey, meeting them as fresh-faced first-year students during the Carousel Week and observe them mature into fine young adults ready to tackle the new challenges that await them. I think that I can speak on behalf of all the department in saying that we are impressed by the hard work and effort that these students have invested to arrive to this point in their education. Not only by the quality of the work that they produced in their dissertations, but also by the way that they have adapted to the COVID pandemic, coping with a sudden lock-down, online classes etc., while being patient with us as we too fumbled our way through new technologies. This experience has taught you about flexibility, adaptation and endurance – things that you will surely need as you embark on the next part of your journey.


An African proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child. And while we did not quite "raise" these students, the theoretical and practical skills offered to these students came from the collective effort of all the Department staff members. From the academics who worked to acquire the grants to furnish the labs, to introduce and modernise study units covering the areas of control theory, intelligent systems and signal processing, robotics, computer vision and biomedical signal processing, to the technical and administrative support staff who ensured that the Department could run like a well-oiled machine. As a team, we worked together to give you what I hope, has been a positive experience throughout your four years with us.


Now that you have finished your undergraduate studies, the Department still has a lot to offer you. The Department has active research interests: from transport modelling to autonomous control, from robotics to machine vision, from biomedical signal processing to human motion tracking. Our research interests are varied and our doors are always open to students interested in postgraduate research at either masters or doctoral levels. And if research projects are not your cup of tea, we also offer a one-year taught masters in Signals, Systems and Control.

But whatever route your journey may take, always try to work hard on the things you like doing and at what you are good at. It may take a while for you to figure this out for yourselves, but you will know when you have figured it out, because challenges will no longer feel like obstacles and that your successes will feel like rewards for what you believe that you are meant to be doing.


Be grounded in your aspirations and dreams. If an opportunity presents itself to you, do not discard it to wait for a loftier one. In my experience, small opportunities open the door for new and bigger opportunities, while waiting for that single life-turning opportunity to land on your lap may have you waiting for ever.


As your professional life develops you will find yourselves in leadership positions which, at first, may seem intimidating. So I will close off by passing on some words of wisdom from Prof. Steven Simske whom some of you met virtually as a visiting lecturer: It is ok to be a little bit afraid. Being a little afraid or concerned means that you care and that will make you great leaders.


Good luck!

 

The student projects will be on display during the Faculty's Engineering Project Exhibition on the 25th and 26th of June from 0900-1300 at the Faculty of Engineering.

List of student projects supervised by the Dept. of Systems and Control Engineering

Andrew G Vella - Design and Implementation of a Miniature Stewart Platform and Control System

Jacob Catania - Modelling and Simulation of a Robotic Hot-Wire Cutter

Gaetano Bugelli - Draw to Model: a 3D interpretation tool for paper-based drawings

Luca Fenech - Design and Development of a Remote-Control System for Electric Wheelchairs

Aiden Bezzina - Detection of Traffic Events from Social Media Data

Erika Spiteri Bailey - DocRead: A document segmentation tool

Andrew Pirotta - A Pacesetting Mobile Robot for Track Runners

Cheryl Gilford - Controlling external devices using an SSVEP based BCI

Samwel Portelli - Identifying Optimal Investment Strategies with Deep Learning

Neil Buttigieg - IoT-based Air Quality Monitoring

Davide Cusmano -Sensorless Angular Velocity Measurement of Brushed DC Motors




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