Next generation of inventors lights up Design Fair

April 5, 2013

Mind-controlled computing, an app for diversifying your stock portfolio, a new chip that could one day revolutionize airport security—these were just a few of the futuristic concepts brought to life by enterprising fourth-year undergraduate students at University of Toronto’s Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

More than 100 projects debuted over three days at this year’s Annual Design Fair, and the most spectacular finalists were featured in a project showcase on Friday, April 5 in the atrium of the Bahen Centre for Information Technology.

Mustafa El-Hilo’s group built a device for controlling your environment—think raising or lowering temperature, turning lights on and off, or opening your garage door—that reacts based on where the user taps on its surface. It’s inexpensive, and incredibly valuable for people with multiple disabilities.

“We wanted to take on an application that was going to solve a real problem,” said El-Hilo. “We learned that 54 per cent of disabled people are unemployed, and the environmental control units available now are much too expensive, around $700. This unit costs about $200 if you mass-produced it.”

The group envisions more frivolous uses for the acoustic-localizing surface too, such as responding to darts thrown in a bar, or as an interactive ad in shopping centres.

Shahrzad Pouryayevali and Saeid Wahabi devised a method of identifying individuals by the personal signature of their heartbeat. The pattern is unaffected by exercise or anxiety because it zones in on the unique ECG phase of the current, rather than the T-wave, which changes under stress. They’ll be expanding their work into master’s projects this fall.

“To build a system from scratch and know every component we’d included was exciting,”  said Wahabi. “But we’re not finished yet—we’re just getting started!”

Other finalists included an English-to-Braille translator, an app for restaurants that eliminates the need to flag down your server, a program that converts live video to animation in real time, and hardware that seriously cuts down frustrating troubleshooting in analog electronics labs.

“We had an exceptional group of students this year, and it showed today,” said Prof. Phil Anderson, course coordinator. “Their hard work is clearly evident in the high quality and applicability of projects in this room.”

The Design Fair is sponsored by Telus, which had representatives on hand to check out the work. “There are a lot of innovative projects here, and we’re interested in grassroots outreach and connecting with new innovations,” said Jaushan Singh of Telus’s Technology Leadership Development Program.

Students went head-to-head for more than $10,000 in awards recognizing innovation, teamwork and execution. Some past projects have continued on as start-up companies or filed for patents. 

Media contact:
Marit Mitchell
Senior Communications Officer
Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, U of T

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