Out of our hands

April 22, 2003

I had my senior design presentation last night for the Computer Engineering department. The presentation went fine; the demo could not have gone worse. Allow me to explain. Most of you guys know how much time we've spent on our project, a voice-controlled IR/RF remote. EVERYTHING had been working fine for a couple of weeks and we had been tweaking it daily. The point is, we essentially finished the project and were quite proud of it.

Sean and I go to our presentation (Jorge and Ty, the other two guys in our group, weren't required to go as they are EE majors). We were the last ones to present last night which meant that 13 people went before us. Three and a half hours after arriving, it was our turn. We walk up there pretty confident, especially after seeing the presentations that went before us; our demo would blow those out of the water. We had a really cool project idea, and it actually worked.

Our presentation went off without a hitch. Sean and I spoke fairly well. It was time to demo the finished product. We had everything setup: the RF receiver circuit in the back of the room connected to a lamp, a 27" Sony TV we borrowed and brought up to the room, the IR transmitter, the RF transmitter, and the microntroller board connected serially to my notebook running MATLAB (for the voice-recognition). The micrcontroller board was reset and I began running our voice-recognition software on my notebook. What happens? What is the worst thing that could have happened? The MIC started picking up SHIT from SOMEWHERE and was just flipping out. We coded up a threshold for the MIC so that it wouldn't respond so easily to ambient noise. This had worked perfectly for the ENTIRE semester and usually required me to speak relatively loudly into the MIC for it to begin recording and to subsequently realize the spoken command and respond to it. Not the case now; not when we needed it most. No one could explain this; the room was completely quiet as per the evil stares I gave to the audience as if I were going to kill them if they so much as breathed too loudly. In short, it didn't work at all and we were at a loss for words. We've done this in so many different rooms and houses and environments. We just don't know what could have been causing it. It was obviously some sort of electrical interference; something outside the range of human hearing. We were able to show off the IR and RF by manually sending the commands to the microntroller board, but the voice was a no-go. I came out of that room angrier (outside of relationships) than I think I have ever been in my life. We put ALL SEMESTER into this project only to have it BREAK unexplicably on us when we needed it most. Of course, it worked fine as soon as we got out of that room. Whatever. I just don't know what to say. Unbelievable.

We have another presentation for the Electrical Engineering department tomorrow evening. We're not worried about it breaking during that demo because we've done it 4342323 times in the room that the demos will be held, unlike the Computer Engineering demo, in which case we weren't allowed into the room until demo day.

I plan on getting some pictures and digital video of the project in action tomorrow, before our EE presentation. I also plan on sending the video to the guy that ran the CE presentations, just to prove to him that everything works and that something in the room was throwing it off. He believed us and was impressed regardless, but I would still like to show him that the project is fully operational, if only to help me sleep better.  :)

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