Students scoop space design awards

Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Group of eight students holding giant cheques and jubilantly celebrating, with a propeller aircraft in the background.

Engineering students from uOttawa celebrate winning the top three prizes in the Science Odyssey Makers Challenge at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

By Mike Foster

University of Ottawa students have scooped the three top awards in a Star Trek-themed technology design contest. The winners were announced May 12 by William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek, at the Starfleet Gala at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

Canadian actor William Shatner on stage with a microphone, with an aircraft cockpit in the background.

Canadian actor William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain Kirk, spoke at the Starfleet Gala event.

A VitalTracer to monitor heart beat and pulse rates, designed by Azadeh Dastmalchi and a team of uOttawa engineering students, won the first prize of $5,000 in the Science Odyssey Makers Challenge, a contest in which students from across the Ottawa region designed and built prototypes of futuristic technologies. The $3,000 second prize went to Jin Advanced Systems, a team led by Nick Burgel, and the third prize of $2,000 went to Dextra, led by Antoine Machaalani.

All of the design projects were overseen by Faculty of Engineering professor Hanan Anis, Chair in Entrepreneurial Engineering Design, and were made using 3D printers at the uOttawa Richard L’Abbé Makerspace.

VitalTracer is like a smart health watch that monitors important vital signs, including ECG signal and sleep cycles, and sends the data to a smartphone for easy sharing and visualization, according to Dastmalchi, a PhD student in biomechanical engineering. The project began in 2013 with help from fellow students Ali Ghorbani, Elisha Pruner, Rachel Cohen, Kizz Patric and Shannon Lee.

“VitalTracer can substitute all of the diagnostic equipment and devices on board (a space station) and offer an all-in-one, compact smart watch to each astronaut,” Dastmalchi said.

The team now hopes to use the prize money towards obtaining a patent on the device.

Two women, arm-in-arm, smile with posters in the background describing their VitalTracer device.

Shannon Lee (left) and Azadeh Dastmalchi in front of their presentation on VitalTracer.

“Winning the contest was surreal but made our dream come true,” Dastmalchi said. “This is a huge step in the VitalTracer journey.”

Jin Advanced Systems, formed by uOttawa engineering students in January 2015, is a start-up that aims to develop the world’s first continuous 3D printer. For the contest, the team presented its ejection print bed device, which clears build surfaces and prevents warping as plastic cools, allowing the 3D printer to move on to the next job, according to Burgel, a fourth-year student in electrical engineering.

“In the coming months, we plan to use the money won to help us launch the print bed as a stand-alone product and pay for some remaining patent applications,” Burgel said. The team includes Isaac O’Beirn, Jeffrey Robinson, Jacky Wu, Samuel Field, Neali Farahvash and Zachery O’Beirn.

Antoine Machaalani, a fourth-year biomedical mechanical engineering student, said the idea for the Dextra Arm was inspired by the first Prosthetic Hand Challenge to make a 3D-printed prosthetic hand for a six-year-old boy. Originally from Lebanon, Machaalani got the idea from that initiative to design inexpensive prosthetic limbs for Syrian refugees.

Antoine Machaalani with arms folded on a table and chin on his hands, with a plastic prosthetic arm and two Dextra signs.

Antoine Machaalani hopes that a version of the Dextra Arm can be 3D printed for amputee refugees living in Lebanon.

This August, Machaalani plans to take two 3D printers to Lebanon so that they can be used to provide a version of the inexpensive prosthetic arm and other upper limbs to amputees. The $2,000 prize money and a crowdsourcing campaign will help fund the non-profit project, which has captured the interest of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Machaalani has applied for funding from uOttawa’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Endowment Fund.

“I come from Lebanon and, since I arrived here in Canada eight years ago, I have been thinking about how I can give something back,” Machaalani said. “A conventional prosthetic arm in Lebanon costs at least $3,000, whereas the Dextra Arm will cost around $20.”

He and his team have been experimenting with open-source designs. The aim is to create their own variation of a prosthetic arm that is activated by flexing the elbow and can grasp and hold everyday objects. The prototype presented at the competition by the Dextra team, which includes Midia Shikh-Hassan, Roxanne Gauthier-Ferland and Malik Jumani, was printed at the Richard L’Abbé Makerspace in a day.

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