Building communication

Student-written article becomes guide for Engineering class project

Walla Walla University students in Rob Frohne’s Electronics II class worked on a unique electronic project this past quarter. The project involved designing, building, and testing software-defined radios. These radios are systems that use software connected to a computer system, rather than with traditional hardware elements. 

The students in Electronics II during spring quarter 2020, presented their findings at the international amateur radio organization’s TAPR Digital Communications Conference, they also created a short manual of their findings for future students to use as a resource when working on similar projects. Frohne used it as a manual for this year’s Electronics II class as they built their own radios for their class projects during spring quarter. 

Working from the student manual left to them, as well as Frohne’s own expertise on radios, the students designed, built, and tested the radios during the quarter-long process. The radios that they worked with are an analog electronic front where an antenna connects. Signals pass through the antenna and into a computer that processes the information and turns it into data that people can hear or read.

Reflecting on the students that were able to bring their own unique twists, Frohne said, “They are innovating. There were two teams this quarter. One of their designs had circuits I had never seen used in a software-defined radio before, and that was cool.”

Regarding his own interest in the project, Frohne continued, “I became an engineer partly because I enjoyed my HAM radio hobby. I wanted to know how to design better antennas and radios. Now I get to teach students how to design radio receivers. That is fun!”

Three of the students who wrote the original manual helped with the students that took the class this past spring: Jordyn Watkins works as the Electronics II teacher’s assistant, and Konrad McClure and Caleb Froelich came to the design reviews, a process where an engineer presents their design to other engineers and they look for possible problems or mistakes. 

Regarding his work with the original project, Caleb Froelich said, “I knew absolutely nothing about software-defined radio before Dr. Frohne’s Electronics II course. Learning the relevant theory, designing an SDR radio receiver, building and testing our design, all in the span of a quarter seemed like a daunting task to both my project partner (Konrad McClure) and I. Yet, through Dr. Frohne’s help and countless hours spent working together, Konrad and I produced a fully functioning radio receiver.”

Froelich continued, “The project taught me a lot about what true engineering work is like, and prepared me for my senior project. While the work was challenging, the fruit of our labor was sweet! I remember the first video that my project partner (Konrad) sent me of our SDR receiver picking up a signal from a station in Okeechobee, Florida. It was a thrill to hear our design actually doing what it was designed to do! This quarter, I’ve been blessed to help out some of my fellow classmates with their own SDR receiver designs. I’ve really enjoyed helping them through their questions and sharing the experience gained and knowledge received through my own work on this project.”

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Posted July 8, 2021

A photo depicting an old-fashioned HAM radio.
Students in Electronics II designed, built, and tested their own software-defined radios, similar to the one depicted in this photo.