Entrepreneurial Resources

Ingenuity Article on ECE

"If you have a dream, it's better to try and start a company and fail than to not try at all," said Whoola's founder Iyer, who is currently working with venture capitalists to hire a seasoned management team to help oversee his company's growth. Iyer appreciates the university's efforts to incubate start-up companies. "Some of the greatest companies got started in a garage," Iyer said. "This university is providing a five-star garage," he added, referring to the TCL, "so anybody who does not think the U of I is doing enough should maybe not be an entrepreneur."

MRM's Peck believes the timing is right for more entrepreneurs to enter the arena. "Students interested in pursuing this kind of a route are going to see tremendous resources begin to come into place over the next few years both on and off campus," predicted Peck.

Design Competitions

Available Grants

1) Leung Fund

Eligibility: ECE Students, individually or in teams of up to 4 students, at least one being in ECE, may apply for funds up to a maximum of $2,000 for use in accomplishing projects beyond normal classroom activities. These projects may be done as part of a normal class, but should in some way be extraordinary for that class. Projects may also be part of an individual study supervised by a faculty member or may be done within the context of a student organization.

Use of funds: Funds may be used for material costs, services (e.g. machine shop time), and, in special circumstances, travel.

Application materials: Students should submit: 

1. An abstract describing the project in 200-400 words.

2. An itemized budget and accompanying budget justification.

3. A list of deliverables. A final report should always be included in this list.

4. A timeline.

5. An outlook for plans beyond the project and long term impact.

Application process: Materials should be emailed to leungfund@illinois.edu with the subject line "Leung Student Venture Fund." Applications should be received by the end of the fourth week of the semester for full consideration, but will be reviewed on an ad hoc basis after that and funded contingent on remaining budget.

Dispersal of funds: Students should obtain supplies through the ECE Store whenever possible. Otherwise, reimbursements will be handled in the ECE Business Office. Orders and receipts should be consistent with the approved budget and will be reviewed. Major changes in budget should be approved by the review committee. Small adjustments in price or specific component choice do not require additional approval.



Advanced E-Team Grants
Grants range from $1,000 to $20,000 and may be used for further development and plans for commercialization of their ideas. Funding can be used for project expenses, legal fees, or student internships. These grants will be renewable for up to three years in declining amounts.


As the consulting arm of the Illinois MBA program, OSBI finds solutions for companies as big Procter & Gamble or as small as technology startups here at the University of Illinois. OSBI conducts 30-40 projects at one time. Clients include General Electric, Dow AgroSciences, Lucent Technologies, Mayo Medical Ventures, and many technology start-ups and commercialization efforts.

If you have an interest in developing your projects further, please use their Contact page to request further information.

Intellectual Property

In the Intellectual Property world, there are four distinct types of safeguards for your ideas: Patents, Copyrights, Trade Secrets, and Trademarks.

  1. PATENTS: A patent is a license by the government that permits its owner to exclude members of the public from making, using, or selling the claimed invention.

    Important things to remember about patents:
    • To receive a patent, the invention must be useful, novel, and unobvious.
    • Disclosure: When an invention is publicly disclosed, inventors have one year to file a patent. Public disclosure means that the invention was seen in a public setting or similarly accessible to the public.
    • Cost: A patent application process will cost anywhere from $2000 - $10,000, and protection lasts from 14 to 20 years.
    • Laboratory notebooks are VERY important.
    • A provisional patent application (PPA) is a low-cost way of delaying the filing of a full patent application for one year. The filing fee is $75 - $150.
    • Priority goes to the first to invent, not the first to file.
    A presentation by Joe Barich on Patent Engineering and intellectual property is available for your perusal.
    Disclaimer: This presentation does not constitute legal advice. This presentation does not create an attorney-client relationship. This presentation was accurate as of the date it was originally given, but may become inaccurate due to changes in the underlying legal framework.
  2. COPYRIGHTS: A copyright covers only the expression of a work and does not do anything to stop people from approaching clever ideas that happened to be embodied in that work. A Copyright extends to software, meaning no one can copy it. No registration is mandatory, though registration could make for stronger claims later in case of infringement. Competitors could still look at software and come close to it without actually copying it. However, with a patent on the full invention, including the software, competitors are forbidden to design something like it.
  3. TRADE SECRETS: A trade secret is a duty to keep an invention secret, thus protecting it until a patent is issued or an invention is publicly disclosed. It is possible that this protection can be lost if secrets are not protected.
  4. TRADEMARKS: A trademark is either a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others.

Here is the official Illinois Policy Concerning Ownership of Intellectual Property Created by Students as Class Work.

Here is a list of Web Resources maintained by the OTM for the University's Patent Office. For more specific instructions, see the following section.

Invention or Software Copyright Disclosures

Here are instructions for dealing with invention disclosures or software copyright disclosures, should the need arise:

  1. Go to the OTM (Office of Technology Management) Web site: http://www.otm.illinois.edu/
  2. Under the "For Campus" tab, there is the (1) Invention Disclosure Form, (2) Software Disclosure Form, and (3) Mobile App Disclosure Form. Complete and submit -- through the ECE Department -- the applicable Disclosure Form.
  3. The Invention Disclosure Form, under Section 14, contains the following statement:

    I (We) hereby agree to assign all right, title and interest to this invention to the UI and agree to execute all documents as requested, assigning to UI our rights in any patent application filed on this invention and to cooperate with the RTMO in the protection of this invention. UI will share any royalty income derived from the invention with the inventor(s) according to the General Rules, Article III, Section 8.

    Cross out/strike that paragraph -- and write in something like SEE ATTACHED LETTER -- and then add a letter that explains what you want from the University and why, giving as much detail as necessary for the OTM to check out the situation fully (i.e., that is not already covered by answering the questions in the Disclosure Form).
  4. After completing the Form, send it to the ECE Assistant to the Department Head in the Business Office (2120 ECEB). The form will be forwarded to OTM with a cover letter. OTM will then assign the Disclosure to a Tech Manager who will follow up as needed and coordinate a response to the students involved.

Transferring Intellectual Property Rights

Some projects proposed by mentors external or internal to the University, may require that you transfer the rights to intellectual property developed as part of the project they propose. Whether you agree to transfer the rights or decide to undertake a different project is completely up to you, the student.

If you do decide to undertake the proposed project, you will need to sign over your rights using this pre-approved form.


Shamith Achanta, Rick Eason, Srikar Nalamalapu

Featured Project

Team Members:

- Rick Eason (reason2)

- Srikar Nalamalapu (svn3)

- Shamith Achanta (shamith2)

# Problem

The Aerospace Engineering department's Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois (LASSI) develops nanosatellites for the University of Illinois. Their next-generation satellite architecture is currently in development, however the core bus does not contain an Attitude Determination and Control (ADCS) system.

In order for an ADCS system to be useful to LASSI, the system must be compliant with their modular spacecraft bus architecture.

# Solution

Design, build, and test an IlliniSat-0 spec compliant ADCS module. This requires being able to:

- Sense and process the Earth's weak magnetic field as it passes through the module.

- Sense and process the spacecraft body's <30 dps rotation rate.

- Execute control algorithms to command magnetorquer coil current drivers.

- Drive current through magnetorquer coils.

As well as being compliant to LASSI specification for:

- Mechanical design.

- Electrical power interfaces.

- Serial data interfaces.

- Material properties.

- Serial communications protocol.

# Solution Components

## Sensing

Using the Rohm BM1422AGMV 3-axis magnetometer we can accurately sense 0.042 microTesla per LSB, which gives very good overhead for sensing Earth's field. Furthermore, this sensor is designed for use in wearable electronics as a compass, so it also contains programable low-pass filters. This will reduce MCU processing load.

Using the Bosch BMI270 3-axis gyroscope we can accurately sense rotation rate at between ~16 and ~260 LSB per dps, which gives very good overhead to sense low-rate rotation of the spacecraft body. This sensor also contains a programable low-pass filter, which will help reduce MCU processing load.

Both sensors will communicate over I2C to the MCU.

## Serial Communications

The LASSI spec for this module requires the inclusion of the following serial communications processes:


- RS422

- Differential I2C

The CAN-FD interface is provided from the STM-32 MCU through a SN65HVD234-Q1 transceiver. It supports all CAN speeds and is used on all other devices on the CAN bus, providing increased reliability.

The RS422 interface is provided through GPIO from the STM-32 MCU and uses the TI THVD1451 transceiver. RS422 is a twisted-pair differential serial interface that provides high noise rejection and high data rates.

The Differential I2C is provided by a specialized transceiver from NXP, which allows I2C to be used reliably in high-noise and board-to-board situations. The device is the PCA9615.

I2C between the sensors and the MCU is provided by the GPIO on the MCU and does not require a transceiver.

## MCU

The MCU will be an STM32L552, exact variant and package is TBD due to parts availability. This MCU provides significant processing power, good GPIO, and excellent build and development tools. Firmware will be written in either C or Rust, depending on some initial testing.

We have access to debugging and flashing tools that are compatible with this MCU.

## Magnetics Coils and Constant Current Drivers

We are going to wind our own copper wire around coil mandrels to produce magnetorquers that are useful geometries for the device. A 3d printed mandrel will be designed and produced for each of the three coils. We do not believe this to be a significant risk of project failure because the geometries involved are extremely simple and the coil does not need to be extremely precise. Mounting of the coils to the board will be handled by 3d printed clips that we will design. The coils will be soldered into the board through plated through-holes.

Driving the inductors will be the MAX8560 500mA buck converter. This converter allows the MCU to toggle the activity of the individual coils separately through GPIO pins, as well as good soft-start characteristics for the large current draw of the coils.

## Board Design

This project requires significant work in the board layout phase. A 4-layer PCB is anticipated and due to LASSI compliance requirements the board outline, mounting hole placement, part keep-out zones, and a large stack-through connector (Samtec ERM/F-8) are already defined.

Unless constrained by part availability or required for other reasons, all parts will be SMD and will be selected for minimum footprint area.

# Criterion For Success

Success for our project will be broken into several parts:

- Electronics

- Firmware

- Compatibility

Compatibility success is the easiest to test. The device must be compatible with LASSI specifications for IlliniSat-0 modules. This is verifiable through mechanical measurement, board design review, and integration with other test articles.

Firmware success will be determined by meeting the following criteria:

- The capability to initialize, configure, and read accurate data from the IMU sensors. This is a test of I2C interfacing and will be tested using external test equipment in the LASSI lab. (We have approval to use and access to this equipment)

- The capability to control the output states of the magnetorquer coils. This is a test of GPIO interfacing in firmware.

- The capability to move through different control modes, including: IDLE, FAULT, DETUMBLE, SLEW, and TEST. This will be validated through debugger interfacing, as there is no visual indication system on this device to reduce power waste.

- The capability to self-test and to identify faults. This will be validated through debugger interfacing, as there is no visual indication system on this device to reduce power waste.

- The capability to communicate to other modules on the bus over CAN or RS422 using LASSI-compatible serial protocols. This will be validated through the use of external test equipment designed for IlliniSat-0 module testing.

**Note:** the development of the actual detumble and pointing algorithms that will be used in orbital flight fall outside the reasonable scope of electrical engineering as a field. We are explicitly designing this system such that an aerospace engineering team can develop control algorithms and drop them into our firmware stack for use.

Electronics success will be determined through the successful operation of the other criteria, if the board layout is faulty or a part was poorly selected, the system will not work as intended and will fail other tests. Electronics success will also be validated by measuring the current consumption of the device when operating. The device is required not to exceed 2 amps of total current draw from its dedicated power rail at 3.3 volts. This can be verified by observing the benchtop power supply used to run the device in the lab.