The world’s first flying car got closer to its debut with the help of Andrew “AJ” McFarlane ’19. McFarlane worked as an engineering summer intern for Terrafugia, a U.S. flying-car developer based in Massachusetts. The company recently announced pre-sales for The Transition, a ‘roadable’ aircraft that can switch between driving and flying modes.
Working on Terrafugia’s Hybrid Electric Team, McFarlane developed a Human Machine Interface (HMI) application. The application presents vehicle data, such as speed or temperature, to be used by test engineers to simultaneously stream outputs from a physical system as well as outputs from a virtual model.
“When constructing a complex prototype, it is important to test the system in all capacities imaginable in order to be sure of its reliability,” explains McFarlane. “Thus, to be able to observe both outputs from physical and virtual models would be quite powerful. Before my term ended, my application was capable of streaming randomly generated numbers into both grid and plot formats. I had also set up a series of model proxies, providing users with the ability to observe various subsets of system outputs through a touchscreen.”
While the majority of McFarlane’s time was dedicated to developing the HMI application, his desire to diversify his experience led him to work with an electrical engineer who was designing his own 420V buck converter. “A portion of the circuit he was designing involved a 12V to 5V converter, which he asked me to design for him,” McFarlane says. “The converter I designed is being used as a small part of a larger circuit that another engineer is working on.”
With a double major in physics and computer science and a minor in French and Francophone studies, McFarlane says each course he’s taken at the Colleges has shaped the way he thinks. “With respect to my work [at this internship], the two most helpful courses I have taken are Embedded Computing and Advanced Laboratory,” he says. “The former provided me with an excellent overview of systems engineering by including aspects of electrical, mechanical and software engineering. Advanced Laboratory solidified my understanding of practical lab procedures, as well as documenting test results.”
McFarlane secured the internship through the Center for Career, Professional and Experiential Education, where he connected with Joel Katz ’78, senior embedded systems engineer at Terrafugia. The pair still keeps in touch. On campus, McFarlane is a Physics Teaching Fellow, Physics Major Ambassador and member of the Upsilon Pi charter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
In a future where flying cars could become part of everyday travel, McFarlane says his internship solidified his desire to attend graduate school for computer science, where he intends to pursue research in artificial intelligence. Until then, he plans to gain experience with a company whose work involves intelligent embedded systems, allowing him “to gain a better grasp of my intellectual passions, while exposing myself to new technologies, skills, and methodologies.”