CS/EE/ME 75, 2010-11

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CS/EE/ME 75 Organization Schedule Team wiki Public site

Introduction to Multidisciplinary Systems Engineering


  • Richard Murray, murray@cds.caltech.edu
  • Harry Atwater, haa@caltech.edu
  • Melany Hunt, hunt@caltech.edu
  • Project meeting: Mondays @ 6 pm, location TBD

Teaching Assistants


  • 20 Oct 2010: HW #3 is now posted. Due by noon on 29 Oct (Fri)
  • 9 Oct 2010: HW #2 is now posted. Due by noon on 15 Oct (Fri)
  • 1 Oct 2010: HW #1 is now posted. Due by 6 pm on 4 Oct (Mon)
  • 29 Sep 2010: Preliminary group assignments are now posted on the project organization page
  • 27 Sep 2010: Materials from the organizational meeting are now posted
  • 24 Sep 2010: Updated course syllabus plus course schedule and team organization pages
  • 15 Sep 2010: The course organizational meeting has been changed to Monday (27 Sep) from 3-4 pm in 142 Keck

Course Syllabus

Course Description

CS/EE/ME 75 presents the fundamentals of modern multi-disciplinary systems engineering in the context of a substantial design project. Students from a variety of disciplines will conceive, design, implement, and operate a system involving electrical, information, and mechanical engineering components. Specific tools will be provided for setting project goals and objectives, managing interfaces between component subsystems, working in design teams, and tracking progress against tasks. Students will be expected to apply knowledge from other courses at Caltech in designing and implementing specific subsystems. During the first two terms of the course, students will attend project meetings and learn about methods and tools for project design, while taking courses in CS, EE, and ME that are related to the course project. During the third term, the entire team will build, document, and demonstrate the course design project, which will differ from year to year.

CS/EE/ME 75 can be used to satisfy specific graduation requirements in the CS, EE, and ME options and may be taken for up to 36 units of total credit, with permission of the instructors. Freshman must receive permission from the instructor to enroll.

Course structure

CS/EE/ME 75 is designed to be integrated with the curriculum in the individual engineering disciplines. This is accomplished by linking the activities in the first two terms with regular classes in CS, EE and ME. These courses are used to design subsystems for the overall project, with the system integration occuring in the third term and the final implementation and operation occuring over the summer.

  • Pre-requisites: there are no pre-requisites for CS/EE/ME 75 and it can be taken in any year of study (including freshman year). The course is structured so that students of different experience levels can all participate in the design project and accomplish the learning objectives of the course. In the past, some of the students that got the most out of the course were the students who were early in their studies, so we encourage freshman and sophomores to participate.
  • Units: the course has a variable number of units. In the fall, it can be taken for 3, 6 or 9 units, in the winter for 6, 9 or 12 units and in the spring for 12, 15 or 18 units. This use of units is designed to allow student who want to participate but can't spend 9-12 units per term still get involved with the project. In particular, for sophomores or juniors with a heavy course load, it is possible to take the course at the level of 3, 6 and then 12 units in each term.
  • Graduation requirements: CS/EE/ME 75 satisfies specific graduation requirements in CS, EE and ME (as listed in the individual catalog sections). In most cases, you must take the entire course to satisfy the appropriate requirement (this is often listed in the catalog has having CS/EE/ME 75c satisfy the requirement). For students in other options, you will have to petition if you want this course to offset any of the usual design-oriented requirements.


In the first two terms, the course grade will be weighted as follows:

  • Homework (20%): Homework sets will be handed out weekly for the first four weeks of the class. Most sets will consist of some work that is done by the student's team, as well as a (short) individual portion
  • Team presentations (20%): Each team will be required to make a presentation to the class summarizing their design studies.
  • Project documentation (40%): All work performed as part of the class should be documented in an appropriate format (to be decided by the teams). Each individual will turn in the documentation for the items they are responsible for by the end of the term.
  • Participation (20%): Students are expected to attend project and team meetings and to participate in a constructive manner toward the overall goals of the team. Team coordinators and instructors will provide assessments for each student based on the level and quality of participation in project activities.

In the third term, the course grade will be equally weighted between team presentations, project documentation and participation.

2010-11 Project

Solar house.jpg

The course project for 2010-11 will be the construction of a energy efficient, solar-powered building. The course will be structured to provide curriculum credit for students participating in the SCI-Arc/Caltech team in Solar Decathlon 2011 -- a competition to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house (see http://www.solardecathlon.gov), which will culminate with a display of all the entries on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in October 2011.

First term

The course activities in the first term are designed to get students up to speed on the processes that will be used in the project and complete the design development phase of the Solar Decathlon. Students will generally fall into one of the three following groups, depending on how many units they are receiving for the course:

  • 3 units credit: students taking the course for 3 units of credit will be a member of a single design team and will contribute to the design of a specified subsystem within that team. Activities will consist of attending the weekly project and team meetings, turning in homework sets for the first portion of the course, and preparing materials for the Solar Decathlon milestones and internal design reviews in the second half of the course.
  • 6-9 units credit: students taking the course for 6-9 units will be a member of a single design team as well as up to one additional (supporting) team. Students who are members of the integrated product team (IPT) should be taking the course for 9 units of credit to cover the additional time required to serve in this role.
  • No credit: students who do not wish to take CS/EE/ME 75 for credit can continue to participate in the Solar Decathlon projects. All students should attend the weekly project meeting and be a member of either a design team, supporting team, or both.

The output of the first term will be a building information model, design drawings and project manual (SD due date: 23 Nov 2010).

Second term

The second term of the course will focus on the construction documentation phase of the SD competition (SD due date: 22 Mar 2011). By the end of this phase, proof-of-concept implementations of all major subsystems should be complete. In addition, options for improving on the baseline system will be evaluated and decisions made on which technologies will be included in the final design.

Third term

The third term will be devoted to construction of the course house. By the end of the term, a completed house will be built, including implementation of all subsystems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I've heard that the team has been working on the project for a while. Does it make sense to join now? Is there any interesting work left to be done?

A: The goal for the end of the summer was to have a baseline design for all subsystems, which could then be used as a starting point for the final design (where we make choices against the baseline and decide what to put in the final house). For a few subsystems there is a reasonably good baseline in place and so students working on those subsystems will start looking at ways to optimize the designs and put together something that not only works, but has that extra edge that is required to win the competition. Many subsystems aren't even at the point of a good (or sometimes any) baseline design, so for students working on those teams, they'll have to do a baseline design this term and hopefully help us catch up to where we need to be by the end of the year. Teams from other schools often have a hundred or more people on their team, so doing all the design and implementation work with a smaller team is going to be a real challenge.

Q: I can't make it to the organizational meeting. Can I still participate in the course?

A: Yes! Materials for the organizational meeting should be posted by the time of the meeting (or shortly after). You can read about the competition and fill out a sign up sheet by the indicated deadline.

Q: Can seniors take the course (since the competition is after graduation)?

A: We anticipate that the major design aspects of the project (which is what the class is about) will be done by end of spring term, so definitely it should be a good class to take as a senior if you are interested in design of large scale systems (eg, something that requires 20-50 students instead of 2-5). If it turns out you can find a way to stick around campus during the following summer, you could continue to participate in the final implementation (construction) leading up to (and even including) the competition.

Q: How much instruction does the class provide? While I am a sophomore, I still feel like I have not taken enough practical classes to contribute to a large project such as this

A: The course is designed so that everyone from freshman to seniors can participate. You'll definitely make use of work from your sophomore classes and well as the classes you might take in your junior year. I'm actively updating the list of "linked" classes on the web page and these give some sense of the technical disciplines that are involved. But there are all sorts of things that we don't teach in any specific classes that will be needed and the teams will have to go learn these on their own (with guidance from the course instructors and TAs).

Q: Would you suggest taking ME 71 (the design and machining class) before taking this one?

A: It's definitely not necessary. In the first few weeks of the course, we'll divide people up into teams based on their background and interests. If there are students who have had ME 71 and there are teams that need that set of skills, we'll try to make sure that enough students are on that team to be able to complete the design and implementation.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who's choosing between ME 72 and ME 75, or even considering taking them both?

A: They are quite different courses with very different goals and approaches. In ME 72, you and a partner do the entire design of the system. In CS/EE/ME 75, we tackle projects that are too big for a single person to understand everything (and definitely too big for a small group to do all of the work). So you learn about some aspect of the project, but also participate in building something that combines a lot of different types of technologies. You might want to discuss this with your advisor, since he or she might have some additional insights based on the other courses you have taken and your specific interests.

Old Announcements

  • 1 Sep 2010: Added information about various ways to participate in the class (aligned with number of units) + draft organization structure
  • 25 May 2010: The Solar Decathlon team will give presentations of their work this term on Wednesday (26 May) from 7-10 pm in 104 Watson. Students interested in learning more about the Solar Decathlon are welcome to attend.
  • 22 May 2010: added more information on course units, pre-requisites + FAQ section.
  • 20 May 2010: course web page created. Note: this page contains preliminary information about the course. The course plan will be significantly updated in summer 2010.