Fourth Year Design Project

15 Apr 2018

Conduit and my experiences building it

The culmination of eight months of hard work, the Fourth Year Design Project is our Capstone Project here at Waterloo Engineering. I wanted to take some time to talk about my experiences during this wild ride by looking at what we built, how we did it and lessons learned along the way.


Conduit is a smartphone add-on that allows you to keep in contact with your friends when you don't have cell service. It's a device that plugs into your smartphone and lets you send text messages, audio clips, photos and GPS coordinates, all without a data connection. Think of a walkie-talkie on steroids - it's useful when camping, in the middle of nowhere or even in emergency situations.

screenshots of the Conduit Phone Application

We spent a great deal of time ensuring that the product was robust, easy to use and had an excellent UI & UX.

Technical Details

I'll save the juicy engineering details for a later, in-depth blog post, but the basic premise is that Conduit units bootstrap a point-to-point mesh network between themselves. A network can consist of up to six Conduit units, with each unit being 1 to 2 KM apart. Messages are compressed, encrypted, packetized and finally relayed across the network to everyone in a group. We designed and implemented a significant portion of this system - from the custom PCB to the firmware to the Android Application.

FYDP Group

Idea Generation

So how'd we actually come up with this idea? Well it was inspired by some misadventures at Yosemite National Park, during one of our co-op terms. We found ourselves in a situation where no-one had cell service, we were a bit lost and our group was split up. You can see how Conduit would have been useful.

The Team

Over the course of this project I've been fortunate to work alongside my friends, who are some incredibly talented engineers. We knew from the start we wanted to build a complete product and work on everything from the hardware to software. Months of planning, designing and building culminated in our final project, which we demoed at our Symposium on March 21, 2018.

FYDP Group


I learned a couple things during this process that I'd like to share with other undergrads just starting their Capstone Project journey:

  1. Focus on the team - Find people who you can work well with.
  2. Diverse skillsets are key - It doesn't matter how great your idea is if your team can't execute it.
  3. Hardware projects are challenging but rewarding.
  4. Divide & Conquer - Modularize your project and define clean interfaces. This makes it trivial to split up the work.
  5. Test & CI - Spend the time to unit test critical components. Continuous Integration helps ensure you don't break things.
  6. Make it Pretty - Spend some time and clean up the user interface; it makes a difference when you present.

Looking back, this project has been a great learning experience and I am incredibly proud of what our team accomplished. Thanks for reading and stay tuned - I've got some technical deep-dives into our project planned!

"Nodes" by Gregor Cresnar is licensed under CC BY 3.0