10 of Our Favorite Student Projects from Bruce Land’s Cornell ECE Courses

10 of Our Favorite Student Projects from Bruce Land’s Cornell ECE Course

Bruce Land is a professor at Cornell University’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and every year the students in his ECE 4760 course are tasked with creating a project that utilizes a Microchip PIC32 microcontroller.

The projects always end up being imaginative, and often garner attention from outside of the university. We’ve combed through this year’s student projects and they’re all great, but we’ve narrowed them down to our 10 favorites listed below.

Laser Harp

This synthetic harp uses a set of eight lasers paired with phototransistors. The frame was constructed from wood and spray painted gold for a bit of classical flair. When the laser beam is broken by the musician’s hand it triggers the corresponding note on the PIC32, which is then synthesized and output through a speaker.


ToastBot is a little 2-axis CNC machine with a hot air gun that can be used to convert bread into toasty designs. The frame appears to be laser cut from acrylic, and the stepper motors move the X and Y axes with a rack-and-pinion setup. Users can either free draw their designs like an Etch A Sketch, or have the machine automatically “print” images onto the bread.


This is another synthetic instrument, but one which uses capacitive touch sensing instead of lasers. The body of the flute is a clear tube, and metal contacts running along its length act as the buttons. When the musicians puts their mouth against the mouthpiece, the flute begins generating notes. It even uses an additive algorithm to determine the notes, so it can be played like a real flute.

Laser Piano

Like the Laser Harp, this instrument has notes triggered by laser. But, the Laser Piano uses just one laser. A setup similar to a mirror galvanometer is used to sweep the laser beam back and forth, which detects where the musician’s hand is placed, ultimately determining the note to be played.


No, not that kind of Twitter bot. This adorable robot responds emotionally to tweets directed at it. A script monitors Twitter, and every time the robot receives a tweet it chirps and gives a little twirl. It will then display the tweet, and alter its facial expression and lights based on the mood of the message. If it’s a mean message, the robot will get angry. If it’s a nice message, the robot will be happy!


That’s “Guitar Hero 4760” for those of us who don’t remember Roman numerals. This is a DIY Guitar Hero clone controlled with a cardboard guitar that has been outfitted with five arcade buttons and a 3D-printed paddle for strumming. Custom songs can be setup for the game, and players can choose from different difficulty levels.

Sign Language Learner

This clever device is designed to teach people the sign language alphabet. Users wear the special glove that has a host of flex sensors for detecting their finger positions. There is also an accelerometer and gyroscope for detecting the hand’s position. After calibration, the device will tell the user how to form a letter, and then evaluate how well they’re able to perform it. It even has an included game mode!

Banana Scan

This machine removes all doubt about how ripe fruit is. It moves a spectrometer across two axes beneath a piece of glass that the fruit rests on, and gathers color spectrum data about what it sees. That data translates to how ripe the fruit is, and it works with different kinds of fruit. The output is displayed on a small screen, so users know how ripe each individual piece of fruit is.

PGC32 Handheld Game Console

This completely custom handheld video game console can be controlled via two different modes: with the joystick or with the accelerometer by tilting the device. For this project, the students designed and fabricated their own PCB and 3D printed the case, as well as programmed their own game.

Constellation Glasses

Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered what constellation you’re staring at? These glasses will tell you! They use a GPS module and an accelerometer to determine where your head is and which direction it’s pointing. Push a button on the side of the glasses, and the system will identify which constellation is in the sky where you’re looking, and then uses text-to-speech synthesis to read it aloud.

10 of Our Favorite Student Projects from Bruce Land’s Cornell ECE Courses was originally published in Hackster Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original article: 10 of Our Favorite Student Projects from Bruce Land’s Cornell ECE Courses
Author: Cameron Coward