My STEP project involved developing a performance monitoring device for the sport of rowing. Creating this device involved communication with rowers and coaches to develop the best device for teams to use, and a combination of hardware and software development skills. As a former rower, I’ve heard rowers and coaches complain that the devices they use to keep track of their performance are outdated and missing features they’d like to see. I saw STEP as an opportunity to help local rowing teams – and maybe teams everywhere – by developing a device that could give them everything they wanted when it came to performance monitoring. There has never been a device quite like the one I envisioned, and designing an electronic device from the ground up is proving to be quite the ordeal. I’ll always be looking to improve it and get feedback from rowers and coaches, but I’ve already learned a lot and gained valuable experience from my STEP project.
I developed a lot of skills over the course of the project, growing as a technical designer and entrepreneurially. Throughout the years I’ve taught myself to do many things, always learning and tinkering with electronics, but the sheer amount I’ve learned thanks to this project amazes me. Before I started this, I never would have imagined I could gain experience in circuit design, embedded electronics, programming, product design, waterproofing, and so much more from a single project. Sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation to learn new skills, but with a goal to work towards, learning comes easier, as each new skill acquired is a stepping stone toward building something great.
During the course of my STEP experience, I have also come to appreciate the sheer scale of a project like this. Electronics have always been a hobby for me, but this project allowed me to dive into every role required in the complex process of developing an electronic device from start to finish. One important thing I learned during the course of the project was how much work goes into developing both the software and the hardware for an electronic device. Working on this project mostly by myself, and with some help from knowledgeable people I know, I came to appreciate how many people it takes to quickly and efficiently develop of new device. Even with all the time and money in the world, I couldn’t do this myself, and so many people helped me along the way.
Some aspects of the project that led to my greater appreciation for the time involved with developing an electronic device from start to finish were the trial and error involved with hardware and physical design. I spent a lot of time figuring out the best shape for the outer housing, as there were a lot of specific criteria I need to meet. The housing had to be waterproof, fit in the existing mounting location in a boat, and have an aesthetically pleasing design. On top of that, I had to account for the components inside the device. Making sure buttons, a screen, and plugs could work with a watertight housing required many redesigns of the housing. The electronics design is an ongoing challenge, and there are always improvements to be made in that area. Since I imagined this device years ago, I never thought I’d be using embedded computer systems instead of off the shelf components. Designing an embedded system is a hefty task that required a lot of research into the components I’d be using. I eventually settled on a Raspberry Pi product for embedded systems, the Compute Module, but even with this simplified “brain” there was still a lot of complex design work to do. Figuring out all of the electronics and case design required me to hone my skills with several programs, from different CAD softwares to various circuit board design suites. Searching through hundreds of pages of documentation for electronic components and learning new software gave me an appreciation for all the roles that go into designing a product and the time commitment behind every device like a cell phone.
I also believe myself to be a better entrepreneur and networker thanks to all of the interaction with outside sources that was required for this project. When learning all of the skills that go into designing a complex electronic device, there were a lot of things I just didn’t know. But reaching out to people to find solutions gave me valuable experience in making connections and doing what it takes to get a project done. I talked to coaches from Columbus and from back home, rowers I’ve known my whole life and rowers I’ve never met, and reached out to people with technological experience in organizations at OSU. Consulting with people in the sport helped me see the value of talking to users when it comes to product design. Their ideas and input ultimately shaped my vision of the final product and helped to create a device that will be exactly what rowers and coaches need, not just something that I thought would be cool. Getting help from outside sources when it came to technology was also a great learning experience. Whether it was fellow hobbyists on internet forums or people from clubs like the Maker Club at OSU, I learned the value of asking for assistance; if you have a problem, there is probably someone out there with an answer. All of this networking and problem solving will no doubt help me achieve my future goals, and to make this project the best it can be.
My STEP project fostered a combination of professional growth and technological learning in me, and I have become a much more experienced and capable person because of it. Facing all the challenges that come with designing and troubleshooting electronics helped me to develop professional relationships with people from all areas of expertise from sports to technology to business. I worked with people to coordinate suppliers for obscure parts, gather large data sets to see what rowers and coaches really want to see in their devices, and reached out to so many knowledgeable folks for help with roadblocks in the design process.
I developed my people skills and my tech skills thanks to STEP, and this growth will certainly help me when it comes to achieving my goals. A project like this is never really over, and it’s going to be a long road to bring the best iteration of my performance monitoring device to rowing teams that need it, but the skills I’ve gained can help me see this or any project through to completion. Having the courage to reach out to experts and enthusiasts that might have the answers you don’t is valuable skill in any field, and as I complete my studies in architecture, I know I’ll be able to find people to help overcome roadblocks when learning design software, prototyping methods, or just understanding architecture itself. Networking is essential to growing professionally and in entrepreneurship, and I would love to run a successful business one day. Being able to talk to customers and deliver what they really want is important in architecture, technology, or any area my future businesses may serve. Talking to rowers to get real end user feedback is great practice for delivering perfect final products. I now know what it’s like to be involved in every part of developing a device from the ground up, and meeting with people that will be involved with every step from concept to production. I achieved proficiency in areas I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d be dabbling in as an architecture student, and made great strides in bringing the perfect performance monitoring device to the sport of rowing. There is still so much to learn, but thanks to STEP I’ve already learned a lot. My growth through this program will allow me to tackle any project I set my mind to, take my career in any direction I choose, and continue to perfect the device that rowers have wanted for so long.