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Big hearts and new arms highlight annual engineering design fair

Students shine as they put their best answers forward at annual Capstone design fair

Michael Platt

Students from "Improving the Bicycle: An Automatic Continuously Variable Transmission System" work on their invention. The team, including Zachary Dobberthien, Surina Parmar, Kirk Sarmiento, Christopher Ximenez and Brandon Wong, built a transmission system for a bicycle where optimal gear ratio is automatically selected depending on the elevation and resistance.

Changing someone’s life with a couple of empty pop bottles and a balloon.

If anything represents the best of what Schulich School of Engineering’s annual Capstone design fair can be it’s a fully-functioning prosthetic arm designed by students, that anyone can build for under $25, using basic parts and simple instructions.

“We hope that by using easily accessible materials, someone in a developing nation could theoretically find their own materials and make their own prosthetic," said Tyler Anker, part of the six-person team that build the “Calgary Arm” for Capstone.

With the instructions made readily available online, the Calgary Arm is hoped to provide a useful alternative to prosthetics costing thousands of dollars.

Cheap and simple, it employs a foot-powered bicycle pump to create a vacuum, and the sugar-filled balloon can pick up almost anything a hand can, including a pen.

“We hope this might make a big difference in someone’s life,” said Joel Neumann, another member of the team, which was inspired by a suggestion from Dr. Mark Ungrin, of the faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

A fair full of solutions to real-world problems

And that was just one of nearly 120 student engineering projects and inventions to fill the Olympic Oval on April 3, a fair of ingenuity that attracted hundreds of fascinated students, faculty and members of the public.

“The idea is this robot will be used in clinical settings, to help with children’s vaccinations,” said Rachel Haan, standing beside the torso of a 3D-printed android with soft rubber hands.

Haan’s team was one of a few groups working on a humanoid robot that serves to distract kids in scary medical settings, making shots quicker and less traumatic.

“They’ve found in testing that children trust robots.”

Robots and cheap arms were only two highlights of a fair that gives fourth-year Schulich students a chance to show off their academic efforts with a real-world engineering solution, providing answers to problems posed by professors, industry, and the students themselves.

Capstone caps four years of study in a tangible way

“They consolidate all the engineering knowledge they’ve gained as undergraduate students, and use their skills to create interesting solutions to some real-world problems,” said Dr. Arindom Sen, associate dean (student professional development).

Sometimes the inspiration is what goes bump in the night, which spurred one team to design a lightweight, easily-ported motion detection system for campers, to warn of bears and the like.

Other times, it was to make life better for others, which inspired a team to build a bicycle for Cerebral Palsy patients with two sets of handlebars, meaning the parent pushing from behind can safely steer when needed.

But in all cases – whether it’s a hybrid rocket motor, a pre-hospital trauma patient transport system or a continuous pipeline crack monitoring tool – the inspiration was to engineer a better world.

“It’s one of the key educational opportunities of their degree program,” said Sen.