Engineering students create light display for UCI bike race

Electrical and computer engineering students manually constructed a wire frame and then used LED ...
Electrical and computer engineering students manually constructed a wire frame and then used LED rope lights to construct a bicycle for a light display that will play on the front windows of the Engineering West Hall building.

UCI Road World Championships cyclists and spectators who pass the 600 block of Main Street are in for a treat — a light animation display created by Virginia Commonwealth University electrical and computer engineering students.

“The School of Engineering is a central backdrop for the UCI bike race, a worldwide event with nearly a thousand athletes and countless viewers,” said Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We want to welcome everyone to Richmond in a special way that showcases the creativity and talent of our students.”

Topsakal, who joined VCU in June of 2015, quickly assembled an undergraduate student advisory board tasked with shaping the direction of department initiatives and helping to rally the student body to apply what they’re learning in classrooms out in the community. According to the chair of the student advisory board, Umar Hasni, the bike race presented the perfect opportunity for the board to bring their peers together to come up with an idea and use what they know to execute on that idea within a tight time frame.

These opportunities build our confidence to know our skills will translate into the real-world experience we need to get jobs.

It took nearly 20 electrical and computer engineering students and one 36-hour push, but the end result is a bicycle constructed from insulated LED rope lights that zooms across the third floor windows of the School of Engineering West Hall building. The display even has a “secret message” that onlookers can decode by breaking down the patterns of the flickering lights.

The 200-foot display is programmed to play about every 30 minutes. Customized sensors that can image and detect cyclists on the road will trigger the light show to play automatically.

“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes engineering to ensure we’ve made smart design choices, that we’re drawing a safe amount of power to make the display work and that we’re sure the lights are as brilliant as they can be,” said Hasni. “Listen, the fact that we were able to track down Christmas lights when it’s not Christmas was extremely hard!”

After soldering materials together and shaping all the elements for the light display, a group of electrical and computer engineering students pose with Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D. and chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, at 3 a.m. in front of the display.
After soldering materials together and shaping all the elements for the light display, a group of electrical and computer engineering students pose with Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D. and chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, at 3 a.m. in front of the display.

When the student board pitched their idea, the School of Engineering departments responded. Various faculty members pulled together resources and laboratory space for the students. “These opportunities build our confidence to know our skills will translate into the real-world experience we need to get jobs,” said Hasni, who hopes people who see the light display will become interested in engineering.

 

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“The School of Engineering is a central backdrop for the UCI bike race, a worldwide event with nearly a thousand athletes and countless viewers,” said Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D. and chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. “We want to welcome everyone to Richmond in a special way that showcases the creativity and talent of our students.