Mitchell FantuzA blindfolded Mitchell Fantuz demonstrates a voice-operated wayfinding system for visually impaired individuals Friday during a display of engineering capstone projects.

Projects display engineering students’ real-world abilities

A team of students who designed a system to help visually impaired people navigate their surroundings are particularly excited about one aspect of their project: the difference it can make in the lives of users.

“It could help people in the real world,” says Hejir Rashidzadeh, one of three fourth-year students of electrical and computer engineering behind the “Intelligent Blind Man Aid,” which combines a camera and ultrasonic sensors with a voice command system.

The team set up an obstacle course to allow blindfolded guests try the experience for themselves, as part of Capstone Design Demonstration Day, Friday in the lobby of the Centre for Engineering Innovation. It was one of dozens of displays by groups of students in various engineering disciplines: electrical and computer; civil and environmental; and mechanical, automotive and materials.

Capstone projects challenge students to apply the formal knowledge they’ve gained over four years of study to solving real-world problems.

The blind-man aid alerts wearers to hazards in their paths with audible instructions: “continue straight” or “turn left.” It can provide a description of the surroundings “a group of people standing,” and even recognize individuals: “Hejir is near.”

“We were able to add a lot of features,” says team member Crystal Roma. “It’s very flexible.”

Besides the technical skills the students develop, the projects help them learn professional skills like time management and teamwork.

“We definitely learned to work as a team,” says Shahad Bahi, whose group of civil engineering students designed a storage facility for the Windsor Salt Mine. “Those are things that will make us better professionals once we begin our careers.”