Members of the Solegait team and the Pods device: a smart insole and app that track pressure accross your feet as you walk to monitor gait and prevent injury. (Left to right: Ashley Lesperance, Zachary Nunn, Alexandra Talpalaru.)

Engineering projects showcase student innovation

March 22, 2016

Some of the most ambitious students projects are showcased each year in ENSC 305W/ENSC 440W Project Documentation and Group Dynamics, a hands-on class where teams spend four months designing and refining prototypes to create a “project of some significance.”

Here is a selection of outstanding projects from the latest cohort; though the concepts and applications vary, from solar-powered timetables to smart insoles, they all employ engineering ingenuity to make the world a better place.


Painting with light


Members of the ArtTech team (left to right: Dana Sy, Zach Cochrane, Bhavit Sharma) with an illustration of the R2D2 robot from Star Wars, created using the Dot Light Canvas.

Tech-facilitated creativity is a growing trend, and ArtTech is riding the wave with the Dot Light Canvas, which lets users paint with LEDs.

The interactive canvas packs 1,032 LEDs (light emitting diodes) lights onto a touchscreen canvas that lets users “finger-paint with light” using a spectrum of colours.

The canvas, currently at the prototype stage, promises to bring some lighting fun into home, offices, cafes, and even hospitals and schools.

“We wanted to harness technology to make something artistic, fun and visually appealing,” says team member Zach Cochrane.

The team built the array of LEDs and the circuitry from scratch.

“After we could control the LEDs with a computer, we added the touchscreen,” says team member Dana Sy. “When it worked, we were dancing around the computing lab. It attracted a lot of attention; it’s so colourful, people want to interact with it.”

The team is already working on the next prototype iteration, which they says will be thinner, pack even more pixels and generate less heat.

They hope to eventually patent and grow the technology to a 32-inch touchscreen that could be used in art therapy, or to alleviate stress in hospital waiting rooms.

Other team members are Aman Shoker and Bhavit Sharma.


Real-time mapping gear for fire fighters

Inspired by the hazy summer of 2015, when forest fires spread throughout B.C., Absolute Vision Systems created a system to help emergency responders map out a space as they move through it.

Dubbed True Sight, the mapping gear system comprises a Microsoft Kinect, LCD display and an embedded computer, designed for use by fire fighters and other first responders reacting to an emergency.

How it works

The prototype works by scanning the area with the Kinect’s inbuilt laser, then combining this information with its depth and visual data to map the surroundings in real-time.  

The information is sent to a processing unit (a small embedded computer) and displayed on the LCD screen.

Finally, this image is reflected onto a transparent screen and into the user’s field of view to enhance their vision with the augmented image output. As a result, the gear acts as a heads-up display, providing the outlined image and the actual scene simultaneously.

The team gathered feedback from local fire departments to inform their next prototype, which would include a larger battery to complete a full mission of approximately four-to-six hours without changing batteries.

More ambitious ideas could include a communication system so that users could relay information back and forth, or utilizing the depth camera and imager to create a top-down 2D map of the environment surrounding the user.

The Absolute Vision Team (left to right: Samson Tam, Tomasz Szajner, Don Labayo, Curtis Rietchel, Jim Tu)


Smartening your feet to prevent injury 

Your footstep is as unique as your fingerprint, and this personal walking style – commonly knows as your gait – can have a direct impact on your overall health.

For instance, over-pronation, which is common in people with flat feet, occurs when the feet roll inwards excessively after landing. This twisting motion can cause extreme stress or inflammation, leading to painful conditions such as shin splints of plantar fasciitis.

Enter Pods, a connected insole that scans the pressure distribution across your feet as you walk.

The Pods app tracks areas of pressure in real-time and displays the results on a foot map. (Source: Solegait project presentation.)

How it works  

The insole is equipped with 64 sensors, placed predominantly in the ball and the heel of the foot, where people make the most contact while walking, says biomedical engineering student Alexandra Talpalaru.

“We wanted to develop a device that’s affordable and can monitor gait long term, before problems progress,” says Talpalaru.

“Then the person can be rehabilitated by applying changes or seeking specialist help early on, before the injury or problem get worse.”

An app, connected to the insole via Bluetooth, displays the data in real-time on a foot map that lets users track areas of excessive pressure as they walk.

One of the major advantages of the team’s system in comparison with devices on the market is its price – the prototype cost less than $80 to produce, while similar insoles can cost anywhere between $4,000 and $7,000.

The team kept production costs low by making their own sensors from scratch using a conductor sheet and wire for just $15. “When pressure is applied across the sheet, a voltage change can then be read by a small computer called a microcontroller,” explains team member Zachary Nunn.

“It’s affordable, and it’s not disruptive – the insole can slip inside any shoe and gather data as you go about your daily activities,” adds team member Ashley Lesperance.

The team believes the insole could help walkers identify the right shoe or modify it with inserts, or help athletes get back in the game after an injury. 

Other team members are Shaquile Nijjer and Karsten Harder.


Solar-powered bus arrival information system

Sunlink created a solar-powered passenger information system that aims to take the guesswork out of transit travel.

The system, called Solarity, displays real-time bus arrival information when a user approaches a bus stop.

“By creating a product that is power-efficient, self-sustaining and easily mountable, more bus displays can be accessible at more bus stops, regardless of whether passengers have a smartphone,” says team member Dejan Jovasevic.

How it works

The low-energy system, which is activated by a proximity sensor, retrieves live data from the stop using Translink’s open API to display the next bus arrival times. 

The team of six believe their invention would be particularly useful for elderly transit users and tourists, who may not have a smartphone or local data plan to check transit times with an app.

It’s both an energy-efficient and cost-effective solution – the prototype cost just $662 and only consumes power when the display updated, using just 5.1 whatt-hours per day. Thanks to solar power, the system doesn’t require the need to install mains power connections and dig up footpaths to do so.

The goal is to improve user satisfaction, increase ridership, and even host advertising.

The team plans to advance the project by pitching the prototype to bus companies in various cities across Canada. 

Other team members are: Zach Kaarvik, Karen Ly-Ma, Tim Nguyen, Rob Cornall and Rohan Thomas.


A hands-free page turner for people with disabilities

A high-tech gadget for a low-tech medium, Lex-aid designed a machine called Flipp that automatically turns the pages of a book, without the reader lifting a finger.

The automatic page turner could prove useful for elderly people, and people with disabilities, like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or other medical conditions.  

How it works 

To lift and turn each page, the device uses a mechanical arm, made from a custom aluminium rod with rubber wheels at the end, and a series of motors and clamps.

The reader can operate it using voice commands (“forwards” or “backwards”) or with the push of a button. The design uses basic mechanics, but demanded ingenuity to design a system that would work on any size page and any weight of paper.

The team devised a rubber wheel that spins and flips a single page, while a series of arms and flaps ensure only a single page is turned at a time.

The team built the prototype themselves using plywood and circuitry; only the motor was off-the-shelf.

Team members are: Daniel Miess, Kamal Ezz, Hesam Bagheri Azghadi, Raj Singh.