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tennessee technological university

TTU News

Published: Thu Jun 2, 2011

thumb_LTAtowerA bright blue warehouse on Brown Avenue is full of colorful rolls of vinyl and nylon waiting to be turned into inflatable blimps, towers and satellites.

But one of the more exciting things inside the LTA Projects warehouse in Cookeville is a small gray box.

The box was designed by Tennessee Tech University electrical engineering students and has the potential to make setting up emergency communications systems a lot easier.

For years, the air pressure in inflatable communications towers had to be adjusted by hand. The process to adjust the air, which keeps the towers inflated and the equipment on them safe, took at least a half an hour. The system from a group of senior capstone design course in electrical engineering students contains a microcomputer and sensors to adjust the pressure remotely and automatically.

“The system will allow the sensor and the microcomputer to keep that setting and make sure it stays that way,” said Andrew Ortman, one of the three TTU seniors on the project. “There’s no more need to fly out to fix a little device.”

The portable towers come in a range of heights and are used for surveillance and emergency communications, among other things.  The pressure inside the towers must remain constant to keep the equipment safe and functional, but it can vary based on the outside temperature.

The student-designed system attaches to an air pump inside the tower and uses Bluetooth technology so a wireless tower can go up anywhere. The system is still a prototype, but the company is working with TTU electrical engineering professor Ali Alouani to figure out how much it would cost to put the system into production.

LTA Projects has been looking for this kind of system on the market for years, according to Jeff Lee, the company’s production manager. When they finally gave up hope of finding one, they contacted Alouani to see if his students could make them one.

“It’s to replace what are traditionally very expensive, dangerous and cumbersome systems,” Lee said.

Jesse Fritz and Richard Knapek started working with Ortman on the design in August, breaking the problem down into smaller problems, designing everything on the computer and finally building it and testing it.