Edmonton—Three student teams from the University of Alberta qualified to compete at the national level after playing host to more than 250 engineering students at the Western Engineering Competition Jan. 15 – 19.
Faculty of Engineering students on the junior and senior design teams and the debate team will travel to the Canadian Engineering Competition in London, Ontario, in March.
The senior design team, made up of mechanical engineering students Douglas Rebstock and Stephane Magnan, chemical engineering student Esmat Naikyar and computer engineering student Shahzeb Asif, took second place in their competition despite the fact that the vehicle they designed and built didn’t complete its task.
Judging was based not only on designing and building an autonomous vehicle able to perform a set of tasks, but also on use of materials and budget.
“In the scoring, completing the task was worth 30 per cent—so that was 30 per cent we were automatically set back,” said Magnan, explaining that the team didn’t expect to place in the top two and qualify for this spring’s CEC.
Each of the 12 teams was given the same amount of materials and ‘funding’ and the identical task: their client, a small start-up company with a limited budget, wanted a vehicle that would pick up a bag laying in a horizontal position, move it to a vertical position, travel to a hopper filled with rice, fill the bag with rice then deposit the bag in a designated drop-off area.
The machine was to be as autonomous as possible and built on a low budget.
Teams had eight hours to design and build their vehicles and write up a presentation explaining the technical and financial merits of their vehicles. But the biggest hurdle came in the first 30 minutes—by that time, teams had to submit their budgets.
“That meant that we pretty much had to know what our design was, in 30 minutes,” said Magan.
“Your solution has to be proportionate to the budget,” added Rebstock. “That’s a really important part of engineering.”
The team’s vehicle travelled along a single track, similar to a railway track, and travelled only in two directions – forward and reverse. Built-in sensors mounted on the device told stopped the vehicle when it reached the rice hopper, then sent instructions to the hopper to deliver a certain amount of rice in a period of about four seconds. After that time, the machine automatically moved forward to the drop-off area, unloaded the bag of rice and returned to the beginning to repeat the cycle.
The team’s vehicle won praise from the judges for its design simplicity and for being by far the most affordable. The group was also complimented for having an interdisciplinary team.
When the final points were tallied, the U of A team placed second.
“Our jaws dropped—it was really unexpected,” said Magnan.
The team was put together by Rebstock earlier in the year for the U of A Engineering Competition, which determined which students would compete at WEC.
“I put the team together for UAEC. I didn’t think about what discipline people were in, I just texted friends who are competent and competitive,” Rebstock said. “I know that describes most engineering students but I wanted to have a group of people who were competitive but also knew how to have fun. It’s a serious competition but you can’t let it get too intense.”
The senior design team will be joined at CEC in March by Henry Su and Karim Kurji, who will be competing in the Impromptu Debate category and Marcus Stack, Jason Wang, Andy Wong and Nikola Viktorov in the junior design category.