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Design fair shows UCalgary students on forefront of technology

From the skies above to the ocean depths below, and maybe your computer desk in between, University of Calgary students are showing how they can overcome any challenge with engineering.

Fourth-year engineering students presented their capstone projects to the public on Tuesday. The teams represented every discipline of engineering at the university.

At the forefront of all the projects on display were novel uses of technology to improve people’s lives.

“We’re both from Indigenous communities and we wanted our capstone to basically make an impact in that space,” said Austin Bercier.

“We kind of wanted to go off the beaten path and make an impact with our capstone,” he said.

Hundreds of students, UCalgary, and members of the public visited the fair in the Engineering Atrium on UCalgary’s campus. Over 120 different projects were on display in nine categories, with some present at the fair physically, and others presenting via Zoom.

Many of the projects were sponsored by industry. Telus, Whitecap Resources, and the City of Calgary were among the local supporters of projects, but the teams also worked with provincial and territorial governments, along with foreign universities.

Marlin Sako, Austin Bercier, Jasmine McDermott, Wylie Pietsch, Natasha Eden, and Alejandro Sulbaran show off their gasoline-to-electric Kubota conversion at the Engineering Design Fair at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Literally plug and play

Bercier, along with members of his team, developed a conversion kit to transform a gasoline-powered Kubota utility vehicle into one run on electricity. UTVs are frequently used in northern Indigenous communities as tools of work and for transportation.

The electric conversion requires less maintenance to be performed, no oil or gasoline to run, and can be run on solar or geothermal energy.

The team estimates that based on current fuel and electricity prices, the conversion model would have a lifetime cost of $16,000 to operate. This is $4,000 less than the lifetime cost of a new electric UTV, and far lower than the $44,000 for a gasoline-operated UTV.

Marlin Sako, another member of the project, said that an electric kit motor could directly replace the gasoline engine in that brand of UTV. Schematics and wiring diagrams would make it relatively simple to connect to the already existing transmission.

“You hook everything up, you put everything in the transmission, and just turn it on and you drive,” he said.

The team said that anyone with basic mechanical skills and shop tools could make the conversion.

Hundreds of students, facility members, and members of the public attend the Engineering Design Fair at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Open source and heading for the Yukon

One of the things the team is proud of is making the entire plan open source. They’ve provided assembling and manufacturing drawings, along with a parts catalogue to provide options for people doing their own conversions.

The team will be taking their converted UTV to the Yukon later in April to visit communities and schools. They’ll also be presenting at an upcoming energy conference.

Sako said that currently there is a renewed emphasis on renewable energy in the territories. It’s largely the result of the high costs of gasoline and diesel.

“One driving factor is that cultural shift away from the dependency of fossil fuels,” he said.

More information on the conversion kit is located on the team’s Engineering Design Fair website.

Kevin Le, Reece Stefanshyn, Sheldon Glowatski, and Michael Nikitenko show off their drone designed as part of the final capstone course at the Engineering Capstone Fair at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Making drones affordable

Another one of the design teams had more commercial interests in mind. Reece Stefanyshyn and his team formed MRKS Aviation from their capstone project. They intended to make faster, longer-range drones more affordable.

The affordability in particular was how the team decided to take on the project.

“So we’re all drone enthusiasts, and we couldn’t buy one—that easy,” said Stefanyshyn.

The drone is designed as a direct-to-consumer drone with the same features as more expensive commercial-grade UAVs.

“We designed completely bespoke airframes,” said Stefanyshyn.

The drone looks like a cross between a common four propeller vertical take-off drone and an airplane. The team used 3D printing to create the body for the drone, improving the design iteratively throughout their capstone course.

The team is hoping to make their drones commercially available next year.

Bryant Schroeder, Anthony Thomas Demong, Evan Wilkinson, Luke Fouad, Joel Feniak, and Levi Roberts show off RAEMOND, a robotic autonomous electro-mechanical ocean navigating device at the Engineering Design Fair at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Ocean going drones, too

Everyone loved RAEMOND, one of the most popular and visited booths at the design fair.

The Robotic Autonomous Electro-Mechanical Ocean Navigating Device is an underwater drone designed to flap its fins to move, in the same way a manta ray would.

“It’s an alternative to the traditional underwater UAVs,” said Luke Fouad.

The biomimetic design allows for the drone to be stealthy underwater, more effectively fitting into the natural environment. The team said the design also provides it greater efficiency as compared to a traditional submarine design, and better low-speed control.

“So if you try to observe wildlife up close, you can achieve that a lot better with this sort of design,” said Fouad.

RAEMOND was sponsored by Tianjin University. The team built all of the elements of RAEMOND from scratch, and the final design is being sent back to that university where a team there will build the next generation.

But the members of the Calgary team are ready to move on to new projects.

“I think for the most part, we’re kind of passing the torch at this point,” said Anthony Demong.

Andrey Balasanyan wears a Microsoft Hololens headset, showing off his team’s mixed reality software program to improve communication for autistic students at the Engineering Design Fair at the University of Calgary on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Other projects tackled online cheating to improving health outcomes

Among the many other projects on display were projects like Landis, which aimed to stop cheating on online games. It used artificial intelligence to try and build profiles of gamers as they played, identifying cheating and undesirable behaviour during gameplay.

Other projects used game-like interfaces to improve health outcomes. Using Unity, a popular tool used to create video games, and Microsoft’s Hololens mixed reality headset, they created a tool to help improve communication for autistic individuals.

Other projects included finding ways of providing clean air shelters to northern communities during wildfire season, creating wearable biometric passports, and a human-powered extra-planetary rover.

A full list of the projects is available on the Engineering Design Fair 2022 website.