News Release

Students design and program bioreactor to make biofuel from algae, autonomous quadcopter-and more-in embedded systems class

San Diego, Calif., June 23, 2014 -- A bioreactor that costs just $500. A robot that solves a Rubik’s cube in under 30 seconds. A quadcopter that flies around the room and avoids obstacles autonomously.

These were just a few of the projects designed by students in the CSE 145 and 237 classes taught by computer science professor Ryan Kastner.

The class’ goal is to teach students to build an embedded computing system. They learn the fundamentals of microcontrollers, such as Arduino and Beagle Bone Black, sensors and actuators. Students are also introduced to end-to-end system building and the hardware and software tools they will need to build a project in a team environment.

“This is my favorite class to teach,” Kastner told students who had gathered to present their final projects Thursday, June 12 in the Computer Science and Engineering Building. “You guys did great work.”

Stephanie Conley built a bioreactor that can grow six samples of algae strains for just under $500—similar devices cost thousands of dollars. “It’s about putting research in the hands of people,” Conley said. “It’s also a really good DIY project, especially for someone who wants to make their own biofuel.

Conley’s set up combines six long glass tubes hooked up to an air pump. The pump provides the agitation the algae need so they won’t clump up on the sides or bottom of the tubes. A valve opens and closes a tube that delivers nutrients and water to the culture. Another tube flushes out extra liquid. The system also is equipped with a photo resistor sensor that detects how much light passes through the algae—the less light, the more the algae is growing. The system is controlled by an Arduino Mega circuit board that Conley programmed and hooked up to her bioreactor’s various elements. The information from the sensors is transmitted in real time to a Google document, which users can access on any device with WiFi.

Conley would like to turn Cyanostat into a start-up. But first, she needs to graduate. She has one more year to go. She plans to reach out to research groups investigating biofuels from algae here at UC San Diego, such as the California Center for Algae Biotechnology, led by UC San Diego molecular biology professor Stephen Mayfield.

Other interesting projects include:

·         An airborne radio collar tracker students worked on in collaboration with the San Diego Zoo.


·         An autonomous flying quadcopter for about $300.


·         A robot that solves Rubix cubes in under 30 seconds.

·         A balloon camera that uses autonomous GPS targeting; stiches images together; and captures autonomous time lapses.

·         A system that automatically “harmonizes” your voice. (high fun factor in this video)


·         A hack to add an on-board computerized interface to a truck.

And also:

·         Intelligent Camera Trap

·         AUV Motion Planning

·         Hardware Accelerated Stereo Vision

·          Kinect Fusion on FPGA

·         Sparse Camera Coupled LIDAR

·         Stingray Drivers

·         Team OTTO

·         TritonEye

Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering