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Engineering students get entrepreneurial with capstone projects

In the not-so-distant future anyone on campus may be able to stroll over to the university’s new engineering building and have a bobble-head made of themselves in less than two hours.

The concept was floated Friday by a group of fourth-year students in Industrial, Manufacturing and Systems engineering who were presenting their capstone projects in the lecture hall of the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation.

“We wanted to get people excited about it,” said Ingy Kamal, one member of a three-person team who came up with the bobble-head idea. Besides the novelty items, the students also had plans to make cell phone covers and various manufacturing assembly parts, all out of coated composite materials resembling a hard plastic.

An annual rite of passage for upper-level undergraduates which often pairs them with industry partners to find solutions to operational problems, capstone projects are an opportunity for students to demonstrate how they would apply the knowledge they’ve gained over the last four years in real world settings.

Along with partners Logan Hu and Ayobami Ayodeji, Kamal developed a system which uses computer software to create a 3D image of a subject from various photographs taken of them. That image is used to create a bobble-head model, which could be produced right in the rapid prototyping lab in the new engineering building. Kamal estimated they could manufacture and sell the bobble-heads for less than $80, and her team has already trained a group of first-year students on how to use the program to make them.

Besides the design and engineering of their products, many of the teams who presented their projects Friday worked closely with the university’s Centre for Enterprise and Law, which helped them with conducting market research and analysis on their proposals. Engineering professor Jill Urbanic, who oversaw Friday’s presentation, said there was deliberate effort made this year to encourage the students to be more entrepreneurial about their projects.

“The rules of the game have changed for our graduates,” said Dr. Urbanic, the IMSE undergraduate coordinator. “People don’t get jobs for life anymore, so they really need to expand their repertoire and become much more entrepreneurial and school is a safe place for them to try to do that.”

That was no problem for Sam Ferber, who said he’d be perfectly comfortable pitching the new modular backpack he designed along with partners Alex Caron and Willys Abali in “a Dragon’s Den kind of scenario.”

Their backpack would consist of nylon “modules” mounted on an aluminum frame and held together with Velcro strips and loops. They say the pack would give consumers more versatility in terms of packing, while rapidly decreasing the amount of time it would take them to get to various items in emergency situations.

Some of the other projects included proposals to use a barcoding system to track laundry in nursing homes, storage cases that could be mounted on the backs of e-bikes and even compact rain boots.

Alex Caron, left, and Sam Ferber, right, help Willys Abali adjust the modular backpack they designed and made.