MHCI Capstone Project
The capstone project is a unique opportunity for our masters students and the companies that sponsor them. Many students choose Carnegie Mellon’s Masters in Human-Computer Interaction (MHCI) program on the basis of the excellent experience the capstone project provides.
The project curriculum is structured to cover the end-to-end process of a research and development product cycle, while working closely with an industry sponsor on improvements, modifications or new applications to their existing human-to-machine technology. The goal of this 32-week course is for students to apply all the skills obtained from the program to a project that is reflective of an actual experience in a research/design/development setting.
The Student Teams
Each team is comprised of five to six MHCI students completing their final two semesters. Teams are interdisciplinary with students from design, technology and social sciences backgrounds. Each team is matched with an industry sponsor based on student choice and background at the beginning of the course. In the past, certain capstone projects have required more technical expertise than others and when this occurs, faculty do their best to pair a heavier technical team.
Two to three Carnegie Mellon HCII faculty members mentor/advise the student projects. Faculty meet with each team on a weekly basis and provide ongoing lectures throughout the semesters. They are there to help set scope, manage time, and ease communication across the student team as well as between the industry sponsor and team.
The project runs for a total of 32 weeks, from the first week of January to the first week of August. The 32 weeks are split into two semesters of 16 weeks each. The first semester focuses on research, while the second focuses on ideation, design, development and usability testing. During the first semester, students are finishing up other electives for their degree, so they only work part-time on the project. Students work full-time on the project during the second semester.
The first semester focuses on getting to know the sponsor and their company, setting scope, secondary research like competitive analysis, and user research. At the end of the first semester, students are required to produce their findings which include a documented report, photographs, videotape, field notes, models and frameworks. The second semester includes an ideation phase, where students use their data to design a prototype that meets the needs, desires and problems of the users. The remainder of the summer is spent iteratively programming and testing that design, which should be put through at least three iterative phases. At the end of summer, the team will have produced a designed, developed and tested prototype.
IP, Contracts and Gifts
Carnegie Mellon University is a non-profit organization. Legally our students own the intellectual property they develop in the performance of the course. In order to participate in a sponsored project, students are required to sign a non-exclusive, royalty-free license. Any additional rights can be negotiated directly with the students at the completion of the project. If the company decides to give “a gift,” they forfeit the right to the non-exclusive license.
It is possible that students may not develop any intellectual property during the course of the project, but we can say that all of our project teams have had a 100% completion rate in over 10 years of running this course.
If you are interested in sponsoring a capstone project or would just like to learn more, please contact Jenna Date, Associate Teaching Faculty.