CS/EE/ME 75, 2010-11

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CS/EE/ME 75 Organization Schedule Team wiki Public site

Introduction to Multidisciplinary Systems Engineering


  • Richard Murray, murray@cds.caltech.edu
  • Harry Atwater, haa@caltech.edu
  • Melany Hunt, hunt@caltech.edu
  • Organizational meeting: 28 Sep (Tue) @ 3 pm, 206 Thomas

Teaching Assistants

  • TBD


  • 25 May 2010: The Solar Decathlon team will give presentations of their work this term on Wednesday (26 May) from 7-10 pm in 104 Watson. Students interested in learning more about the Solar Decathlon are welcome to attend.
  • 22 May 2010: added more information on course units, pre-requisites + FAQ section.
  • 20 May 2010: course web page created. Note: this page contains preliminary information about the course. The course plan will be significantly updated in summer 2010.

Course Syllabus

Course Description

CS/EE/ME 75 presents the fundamentals of modern multi-disciplinary systems engineering in the context of a substantial design project. Students from a variety of disciplines will conceive, design, implement, and operate a system involving electrical, information, and mechanical engineering components. Specific tools will be provided for setting project goals and objectives, managing interfaces between component subsystems, working in design teams, and tracking progress against tasks. Students will be expected to apply knowledge from other courses at Caltech in designing and implementing specific subsystems. During the first two terms of the course, students will attend project meetings and learn some basic tools for project design, while taking courses in CS, EE, and ME that are related to the course project. During the third term, the entire team will build, document, and demonstrate the course design project, which will differ from year to year.

CS/EE/ME 75 can be used to satisfy specific graduation requirements in the CS, EE, and ME options and may be taken for up to 36 units of total credit, with permission of the instructors. Freshman must receive permission from the instructor to enroll.

Course structure

Fall Courses
  • CDS 110 - Control Systems
  • Independent project courses
Winter Courses
  • CDS 110 - Control Systems
  • ME 18a - Thermodynamics
  • ME 119a - Heat Transfer
  • Independent project courses

CS/EE/ME 75 is designed to be integrated with the curriculum in the individual engineering disciplines. This is accomplished by linking the activities in the first two terms with regular classes in CS, EE and ME. These courses are used to design subsystems for the overall project, with the system integration occuring in the third term and the final implementation and operation occuring over the summer.

  • Pre-requisites: there are no pre-requisites for CS/EE/ME 75 and it can be taken in any year of study (including freshman year). The course is structured so that students of different experience levels can all participate in the design project and accomplish the learning objectives of the course. In the past, some of the students that got the most out of the course were the students who were early in their studies, so we encourage freshman and sophomores to participate.
  • Units: the course has a variable number of units. In the fall, it can be taken for 3, 6 or 9 units, in the winter for 6, 9 or 12 units and in the spring for 12, 15 or 18 units. This use of units is designed to allow student who want to participate but can't spend 9-12 units per term still get involved with the project. In particular, for sophomores or juniors with a heavy course load, it is possible to take the course at the level of 3, 6 and then 12 units in each term.
  • Graduation requirements: CS/EE/ME 75 satisfies specific graduation requirements in CS, EE and ME (as listed in the individual catalog sections). In most cases, you must take the entire course to satisfy the appropriate requirement (this is often listed in the catalog has having CS/EE/ME 75c satisfy the requirement). For students in other options, you will have to petition if you want this course to offset any of the usual design-oriented requirements.


In the first two terms, the course grade will be equally weighted between course homework sets (one each for the first three weeks), course participation in project and team meetings, and the final project presentation. For the third term, the course grade will be based on the following factors:

  • Homework (20%): Homework sets will be handed out weekly for the first four weeks of the class. Most sets will consist of some work that is done by the student's team, as well as a (short) individual portion
  • Team presentations (20%): Each team will be required to make a presentation to the class summarizing their design studies.
  • Project documentation (40%): All work performed as part of the class should be documented in an appropriate format (to be decided by the teams). Each individual will turn in the documentation for the items they are responsible by the end of the term.
  • Participation (20%): Students are expected to attend project and team meetings and to participate in a constructive manner toward the over goals of the team. Team coordinators and instructors will provide assessments for each student based on the level and quality of participation in project activities.

2010-11 Project

The course project for 2010-11 will be the construction of a energy efficient, solar-powered building. The course will be structured to provide curriculum credit for students participating in the Caltech/SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) team entry in Solar Decathlon 2011 -- a competition to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house (see http://www.solardecathlon.gov) which will culminate with a display of all the entries on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in October 2011.

First term

The course activities in the first term are designed to get students up to speed on the processes that will be used in the project. Students will generally fall into one of the three following groups, which will all have slightly different approaches to the course:

  • No prior Solar Decathlon experience, taking linked course - This is the nominal track for students in the course. In addition to CS/EE/ME 75, you should be taking one of the "linked courses" (listed above), where you will do a project tuned to the Solar Decathlon. Students pursuing this option will be expected to bring their projects to TRL 4 (prototype implementation) or higher in the first term, using the tools from CS/EE/ME 75.
  • No prior Solar Decathlon experience, not taking linked course - If you are not taking one of the courses that is linked to CS/EE/ME 75, you can still participate in the class by taking on a smaller course project. These projects should be advanced to TRL 4 (prototyle implementation) or higher in the first term, using the tools from CS/EE/ME 75.
  • Prior Solar Decathlon experience - If you are a member of the SCI-Arc/Caltech solar decathlong (SD) team, you can use your ongoing work as the basis for your project. In this case, you are probably already at TRL 5 and the goal is to get the project to TRL 7 (baselined design). Students pursuing this option may choose to take a project course (eg, CDS 190 or equivalent) in order to account for the time required to implement their project.

The output of the first term will be a building information model, design drawings and project manual (SD due date: 23 Nov 2010).

Second term

The second term of the course will focus on the construction documentation phase of the SD competition (SD due date: 22 Mar 2011).

Third term

The third term will be devoted to construction of the course house.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can seniors take the course (since the competition is after graduation)?

A: We anticipate that the major design aspects of the project (which is what the class is about) will be done by end of spring term, so definitely it should be a good class to take as a senior if you are interested in design of large scale systems (eg, something that requires 20-50 students instead of 2-5). If it turns out you can find a way to stick around campus during the following summer, you could continue to participate in the final implementation (construction) leading up to (and even including) the competition. (19 May 2010)

Q: How much instruction does the class provide? While I am a sophomore, I still feel like I have not taken enough practical classes to contribute to a large project such as this?

A: The course is designed so that everyone from freshman to seniors can participate. You'll definitely make use of work from your sophomore classes and well as the classes you might take in your junior year. I'm actively updating the list of "linked" classes on the web page and these give some sense of the technical disciplines that are involved. But there are all sorts of things that we don't teach in any specific classes that will be needed and the teams will have to go learn these on their own (with guidance from the course instructors and TAs).

Q: Would you suggest taking ME 71 (the design and machining class) before taking this one?

A: It's definitely not necessary. In the first few weeks of the course, we'll divide people up into teams based on their background and interests. If there are students who have had ME 71 and there are teams that need that set of skills, we'll try to make sure that enough students are on that team to be able to complete the design and implementation.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who's choosing between ME 72 (the usual and ME 75, or even considering taking them both?

A: They are quite different courses with very different goals and approaches. In ME 72, you and a partner do the entire design of the system. In CS/EE/ME 75, we tackle projects that are too big for a single person to understand everything (and definitely too big for a small group to do all of the work). So you learn about some aspect of the project, but also participate in building something that combines a lot of different types of technologies. You might want to discuss this with your advisor, since he or she might have some additional insights based on the other courses you have taken and your specific interests.

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