Nick Bajaikine, Kyle Damrell, Christopher Tong, and Mubtaseem Zaman won first place at the Mac Design League Designathon 2019. PHOTO COURTESY OF MUBTASEEM ZAMAN

A team of U of T students won first place at the Mac Design League Designathon 2019 hosted at McMaster University in January, with a design for shielding cameras on surveillance aircraft.

The team, dubbed “The Avengineers,” was composed of undergraduate students Nick Bajaikine, Kyle Damrell, Christopher Tong, and Mubtaseem Zaman, each enrolled in engineering programs.

Over a period of 36 hours from January 1920, they competed against 243 other students from across Ontario to solve real-world problems presented by industry sponsors of the event.

McMaster’s designathon was originally created in response to the popularity of hackathons.

Whereas hackathons focus on programming skills, the Mac Design League sought to create a multidisciplinary outlet for students to showcase their talents in mechanics and design. Featured challenges included designing EpiPens and lunar rovers.

The victorious U of T team was tasked with designing a way to shield cameras attached to the bottom of military planes from being damaged in the event of landing-gear failure or ‘soft-crash’ landing. The challenge was posed by aerospace imaging firm L3 Wescam,  an aerospace imaging firm which works with defence and military agencies around the world, posed the challenge to the team.

“Intuitively, the idea that comes in [first] is to make a mechanism that pulls the camera inside the aircraft and keeps it safe, like an elevator mechanism,” said Zaman in an interview with The Varsity. Zaman explained that many of their opponents attempted solutions along these lines. However, the team eventually noticed that such a solution might not be easy to adapt to other planes.

Zaman said that their next idea, which involved releasing the camera when it senses an impending crash landing was also scrapped, due to concerns that the camera might be lost or could injure someone if dropped.

“Then I came up with an idea: how about I roll the camera around the body of the aircraft, to the top, before landing? So you can attach something like a roller-coaster rail around the body of the aircraft, and the camera will go up from the bottom on top to save itself.”

Zaman added that this would not only save the camera in worst-case scenarios, but increase its functionality by allowing for surveillance photography from multiple angles.

This flexible design ultimately netted the team the top prize, as well as additional opportunities from competition sponsors.

The team was invited to present their unique solution to company executives at L3 Wescam’s secure facility, and were each awarded a $300 gift card from sponsor 3D Printing Canada. 

Moving forward, the Avengineers want to bring similar opportunities to U of T for students to showcase their design and engineering skills. “I was so inspired that I decided to make a consulting club at U of T,” said Zaman. “There are a bunch of consulting clubs, [but] they are mostly business consulting clubs. What I am trying to do is to make an engineering design consulting club. Our plan is to ask for problems from different industries and voluntarily, as a student team, solve those problems.”

Plans are also in early development for U of T’s own designathon, to be held next year.

In the meantime, Zaman gave advice for budding designers on the fence about attending competitions: “Even if you don’t have the skills, don’t worry. Just go there. Just participate. You will learn a lot.”

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