A high-tech hockey helmet, robots and a brain-controlled wheelchair
April 11, 2012
McMaster Daily News
Imagine a hockey helmet that can measure the force of a blow as it happens, acting as an early indicator a concussion may have occurred. Or an electric wheelchair that can be manipulated by thought - not hands - opening up new freedoms for the paralyzed.
These are just a small sample of the final year electrical, computer and biomedical engineering design projects displayed at their annual Poster Day, April 4, in the McMaster University Student Centre.
There were 37 inventions and working prototypes in all, involving 130 students who have toiled for months over complex computer algorithms, complicated wiring systems or robotic mechanisms.
Anton Lodder, a fourth-year electrical and biomedical engineering student, is a member of the team that is developing a brain-controlled wheelchair, manipulated by EEG electrodes attached to scalp.
"When you move your hand, there is activation in the brain, so if you move your left hand, there will be activation on the right side of the brain," he explains. "And so, when you just imagine moving your hand, there is a similar activation. We're trying to set up a system to detect that activation and turn that into a control signal for the wheelchair."
Like each of the student groups, they had to first identify a difficult engineering problem than work as a team throughout the academic year to find a fix.
"It's like juggling," he says. "There is a lot to balance and a lot that can go right or wrong. While there are so many things you can change that will improve the system, it's actually very difficult to keep everything on track."
Some of the other fourth-year projects highlighted for the Poster Day include:
A robotic toy designed to help autistic children build social skills through games that work on motor development and emotion recognition
Jeff Thompson shows off his group's hockey helmet prototype. The installation on the top of the helmet wirelessly transmits information about the force of a blow to a player's head, helping in the diagnosis of injuries such as concussions. Photo by Matt Terry.
A speed-bump power generating system which converts kinetic energy from the weight and movement of a vehicle into clean, useable electrical energy
A computer system that can read, interpret and translate sign language
An electronic price tag system which would eliminate the need for stickers on consumer items, allowing a central office to change food prices on displays across an entire chain of stores at once
A system that allows a physician to monitor a patient's vital statistics remotely from that patient's own home
"Our students get to design and build actual systems that implement useful concepts," says Mohamed Bakr, an associate professor in the Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering. "Through a step-by-step development process, they acquire the necessary knowledge to put their designs together. Our Poster Day is the day we celebrate their efforts and hard work. I have always felt very proud to see my students demonstrate their amazing projects to others on that day."
The Poster Day is sponsored by Texas Instruments, Advanced Micro Devices, Sigma Designs and General Electric.