Kyle Mackwood, James MacInnes, and Matt Cook
Kyle Mackwood, James MacInnes, and Matt Cook demonstrate their navigation system, the NAV 2000, at the 2013 Engineering Expo.

They could have done a simpler project, but three Oregon State seniors in electrical and computer engineering jumped at the chance to do something big.

For their senior design project, James MacInnes, Kyle Mackwood and Matt Cook took on the complicated task of designing a navigation system for general aviation.

Called the NAV 2000, it is now the newest product for Oregon company, VAL Avionics, who sponsored the project.  The success of the one-of-a-kind device is helping to revive the company that struggled to stay afloat during the recession.

NAV 2000 on displayThe NAV 2000 on display at the 2013 Engineering Expo.

Their design took advantage of the miniaturization of microcontrollers to create a product that is just one inch tall — half the size of other navigational systems on the market.

 But, more important is its performance.

“I’m incredibly impressed with how accurate the students have been able to make this system — it's more accurate than anything I've seen,” says Jim Harr, president of VAL Avionics.

Even better, it sells for far less than its competitors.

Rather than using newer and more expensive GPS technology, the unit receives UHF VHF input, technology that was developed in the 1940s.

“Much of the equipment that is out there still uses the old analog technology. And as an aspiring electrical engineer, I felt that we should look at simplifying and improving upon the technology to receive the UHF VHF signal,” MacInnes says.

The navigation system receives and processes signals and a separate navigational indicator unit translates the information for the pilot. It’s compatible with several indicator systems including the old-style needle display, and a more modern video display called an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS).

The popularity of EFIS for the homebuilt airplane market has been driving the demand for navigation-only systems, and what inspired Harr to develop the NAV 2000.

For MacInnes, who returned to school to finish his engineering degree after he was laid off, the project has been an amazing success.

“I'm so proud of what's happened. I'm so proud of my group, and I'm so proud of what we have been able to produce,” MacInnes said.

The NAV 2000 won the Industry Award for an electrical and computer engineering project at the Engineering Expo in May. The yearly Expo features more than 100 student-built projects from across all the engineering disciplines.

“The senior design projects are about educating the students, but I like that they are also contributing to the economic growth of Oregon companies,” said Mike Bailey, professor of computer science.

The projects are also a stepping stone for the student’s careers. MacInnes is now working as a design engineer at VAL Avionics where he just completed work on the second version of the NAV 2000 that will begin shipping this month.

Kyle Mackwood is finishing up his last term at Oregon State and is expecting the project will open doors for him once he starts job searching.

“The project was immensely helpful,” says Matt Cook who commented that it has been a great topic of conversation in his job interviews.

“It’s an experience I’ll carry with me the rest of my life,” he says.