ISU Freshman Engineering competition - we won 1st place!

ISU – Freshman Engineering competition

Project Recap






Multi-media presentation with live demonstrations; won first place in Fall Freshman Engineering competition at Iowa State University. Automobile theft of CB radios was a major problem; our team designed a series of ready to commercialize, car alarm systems.

Project Details


All engineering students at Iowa State University had to take a first year class called Freshman Engineering 101. FE101 was a general introduction to engineering problem solving and the class included students from Aerospace (AeroE), Chemical (ChemE), Mechanical (ME), Electrical (EE), Industrial (IE), Nuclear (NucE) and Agricultural Engineering (AgE).


Each quarter, every FE101 class (there were many) was split into four, multi-disciplinary groups. Each group chose a different problem, developed a way to solve it,  then participated in a class competition held at the end of the quarter. In 20 minutes your group had to present the problem and solution. The winner of each class competition then met in a large auditorium with all FE101 students (attendance was mandatory). First, 2nd, and 3rd place winners were chosen by a panel of judges and the audience.


Our group decided we'd address the rapidly increasing rate of Citizen's Band (CB) radio thefts from cars and trucks.

We came up with some strategies and a family of working alarm systems, then created a multi-media (35mm slides & music)/live demo presentation.

Tools & Resources



Before I went to college, I was earning money by installing car alarms. Luckily we had a EE on our team, he redesigned my alarms & dramatically improved them.

C.W. McCall's song "Convoy" was a Top 40 hit on the radio at the time. We thought it would make a great theme song for our presentation since CB radios were at the heart of the song.

We also got lucky and had a photograper on our team. One afternoon our group went to a local Interstate overpass and took photos of semi trucks heading towards us and away from us.

For the opening of our presentation we flipped slides of the approaching semis up on the huge auditorium screen, while C.W.'s song blared "Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy!" At that point we definitely had everyone's attention. Then we faded the music/slides and launched into describing our problem. With the stage set, we moved into several live demonstrations of the alarms - which worked! As we wrapped up the demo, we brought the music back up, cut the stage lights, and started showing slides of the semis fading into the distance - again timed to the music.

This was 1975; MTV didn't come on the air until 1981. Our presentation certainly wasn't as polished as "Video Killed The Radio Star" by The Buggles (which was how MTV opened for business), but we had a standing ovation when we were done. Pretty cool. And we won 1st place that day. Pretty awesome.

Were we the best technical solution? No, but we developed real products and put on a real show. We had the best pitch; that's a lesson I've always remembered.

Category: Projects
Topics: Humor
Skills: Explaining