From paper robots to miniature wind tunnels, annual engineering emporium showcases student creativity

On April 4, more than 80 student teams strutted their stuff at annual Engineering Design Day
Marc Quesnel, a 4th-year Mechanical Engineering student, explains his team’s project on the redesign of an unmanned aerial vehicle, one of 88 other projects on display at the Design Day event.Michael Cardillo

If ever, on a cold spring afternoon, you should find yourself quietly despairing for the future of humankind, make a point of visiting the Faculty of Engineering Design Day. The annual event which presents the capstone projects of fourth-year students from the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, is a breath of fresh air.

This year’s version, held on April 4, was no exception.

The sheer volume of the show will stagger the imagination of even the most jaded visitor. In all, 88 student teams took part in this year’s edition, with a dizzying variety of technologies on offer. Looking for something in FinTech? Perhaps some new advances in neural network preconditioning? Or how about a miniature wind tunnel to test your drone? If there’s an app for that, it was probably somewhere in the lower floor of New Residence Hall where the show took place.

More than that, there is a perceptible ‘buzz’ as students, professors and judges circulate through the various booths. There are many suits and ties, while other teams don matching uniforms. Everything feels professional, like the floor of a major trade show.

Paper robots

Examining in close detail each and every one of the projects would not only run beyond the four hours allotted for the show, but would probably require several years of study to decode. However, a cursory inspection offered some salient examples of the incredible work being done by students.

One booth presented their work in Computational Soft Robot Design Exploration, which included some active samples of their work. Forget your preconceptions about robots, by the way, these creations were not only made of paper (i.e. soft), they were actually assembled using origami techniques. The results were like mobile bellows, or articulated accordions. The units are pumped with air to give them shape and moved using external cable assemblies.

“The design brief was to explore the possible applications of soft robotics, one of which is industrial robot arms for manufacturing lines in close proximity to human workers,” explained Ahmed Zedan (BEng’20), one of the four team members. “I’ve worked on industry projects as part of internships in the past and the capstone project really mimics all the real-world experiences in engineering projects.”

Diagnosing ovarian cancer sooner, more accurately

Down the aisle was another group, this one dedicated to new detection methods for ovarian cancer. “The problem is that many women only get treatment after the cancer is already far advanced,” said Alice Brais (BEng’19). “Our proposal is for a simpler, more accurate device so that women will be encouraged to get diagnoses sooner.”

The group’s proposal is a kind of balloon that can be inflated after insertion in the cervix, and then deflated and removed. The properties of the surface enable more tissue to be collected and analyzed than is possible with current methods. The context for this work is that in Canada, 2,800 women per year are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and survival rates within five years are only 50 per cent.

Across the hall, working under the title Wearable Movement Sensors another fourth-year team described their technology, which could one day discreetly measure muscle movement and intensity.

“The possibilities for rehabilitation or for athletic training are very intriguing,” said Lea Moukarzel (BEng’19) to explain the applications for the technology.

The proposed idea would be to incorporate fibre optic wires into the very clothing we wear, with the ability to send reading to a mobile phone. Detecting range of motion, as well as the exact amount of muscles being used to execute a given movement would be of huge interest to fitness addicts and physiotherapists alike.

Gearheads, coding geeks and rocketeers

On a more industrial scale, one of the student teams presented their research into Hydro Quebec’s proposed plan to connect the Magdalen Islands to the mainland electricity grid via submarine cables. Using a multi-layered approach, the group assessed a variety of options using a topology design tool, a production cost model, and a financial model. Their work determined that installing some offshore wind generation, along with a multi-terminal connection to power grids in the Maritime Provinces would result in the optimal mix of power stability and cost for the residents of the remote community.

For team member Catherine Bittar, the project was particularly satisfying. “I have been really interested in power system planning throughout my degree,” she explained. “Having the opportunity to work with a seasoned professor on such a relevant project has been a great learning experience.”

Indeed, there were no shortage of learning experiences for any person visiting the fair. Robot aficionados, gearheads, coding geeks, rocketeers – this was a technology show for all tastes. The perfect thing to warm up the soul on a cold spring afternoon.