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Big hearts and new arms highlight Schulich’s annual design fair

Engineering students shine as they put their best answers forward
April 12, 2017
A University of Calgary student tries the Calgary Arm, a low-cost prosthetic arm made with a bike pump, a plastic bottle, and a balloon. Photos by Riley Brant, University of Calgary

A University of Calgary student tries the Calgary Arm, a low-cost prosthetic arm made with a bike pump, a plastic bottle, and a balloon. Photos by Riley Brant, University of Calgary 

Schulich School of Engineering students in their final year show their inventions and ideas in action at the 2017 Engineering Design Fair.

Schulich School of Engineering students in their final year show their inventions and ideas in action at the 2017 Engineering Design Fair.

Change 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 built the “Calgary Arm” for Capstone at the University of Calgary.

With the instructions made readily available online, the Calgary Arm provides a potential alternative to prosthetics costing thousands of dollars.

Cheap and simple, the arm 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

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 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 problem 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 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 with two sets of handlebars for Cerebral Palsy patients, 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.