Efforts to reignite Skule spirit must involve meaningful faculty-student communication

A lack of understanding led to a disappointing orientation experience

Efforts to reignite Skule spirit must involve meaningful faculty-student communication

Purple pedestrians pridefully parading past parliament — a familiar sight in Toronto during the first week of the school year. With students dyed purple from head to toe, Skule pride fills the air with a sense of excitement that no one can ignore.

The pride and joy of ‘painting the town purple’ was missing amongst U of T’s engineering students as the first week of September rolled around this year. The reason? A warning by Health Canada associating the ingestion of the antiseptic dye used by the students, gentian violet, with an increased risk of cancer.

While the discontinuation of this tradition was for the sake of health concerns, consequential questions of ending a rite of passage loom amongst the student body. The raving energy that was once amplified by the activity is now a ‘dyeing’ tradition among orientation festivities.

The unusual ‘un-purpled’ population of engineering students during the week of festivities was a bittersweet reminder amongst F!rosh leaders and organizers of what could have been and, most importantly, what it ended up not being. While F!rosh Week organizers put time and effort into preserving the vibrant engineering traditions, this became a challenge when those making the final decisions refute these efforts.

Though a safe alternative to the genetian dye has been found, the faculty remained set in their decision to let the ‘purple pride’ tradition die down, demonstrating not only the faculty’s passivity in keeping cherished traditions alive, but more importantly, their lack of understanding and communication with their dedicated student organizers.

Students were left to dye only a small part of their bodies, leaving many disappointed.

A dyed down spirit?

The end of the tradition has given rise to bittersweet emotions amongst engineering students who experienced the act of ‘purpling’ prior to its safety warning.

“It is the central element of F!rosh Week not just at U of T, but across engineering faculties in Canada and around the world. It is frankly sad to know that the [class of 2023] will never experience the dye because of the poor communication between U of T and the F!rosh team,” said Julien Senécal, a fourth-year biomedical systems engineering student.

From dipping one’s pinky to drenching one’s entire body in purple, the resulting purple stains around campus once acted as markers of the radiant U of T engineering pride.

The purple dye holds a special meaning for Sam Looper, a Professional Experience Year engineering student and a former leader of organizing central frosh events. “Both my grandparents were engineers in the Canadian military, and their service to our country and dedication to their profession has been an inspiration to me since I first decided I would be an engineer,” said Looper.

According to legend, “the purple dye represents the duty and sacrifice of engineers in the navy, whose purple armbands would dye their skin from the temperatures in the bowels the of ships.”

“Not only does this tradition remind me of my grandparents and the role models they’ve been for me, but also [of] a more general sense of duty and responsibility which is deeply embedded in the culture of our profession,” said Looper.

This year’s student organizers found themselves with little time to adapt to the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering’s sudden decision to ban the use of dye altogether after months of brainstorming alternatives to the original dye. With the tradition dying out, the engineering faculty at U of T failed to organize an alternative to the traditional event, leaving many students, both old and new, feeling left out.

Many incoming engineering students used to look forward to someday becoming a part of this tradition. “As an incoming first-year student, it is one of the first ways you are invited to step out of your comfort zone,” said Looper, “an exercise I believe prepares you to make the most of your time in university. It builds a bond between engineers that transcends all differences and is a first symbol of pride for your profession and community.”

“Many new students had been expecting to dye and were let down. The alternative to our traditional event was not as visible or extraordinary, which dampens some of the positive effects of this tradition, including community-building and the opportunity for new students to step out of their comfort zones.”

“I hope the faculty and student leadership do a better job of collaborating to find a new solution to the current issues surrounding the tradition for the sake of future U of T engineering students,” Looper added.

The future of Skule traditions

The last-minute ban of the traditional purple dye may have taken a toll on expectations of engineering spirit during F!rosh Week, yet despite the faculty’s apparent inability to effectively collaborate with leaders and organizers to brainstorm a viable alternative to the dye, Skule spirit remains radiant.

Looper believes “that this year’s student organizers did an excellent job of maintaining the spirit of tradition despite the restrictions they were placed under.” In reflection, a major component that keeps the engineering spirit and pride alive is the feeling of connection and support between the faculty and students.

While the faculty’s decision to end the tradition was made in the interest of student health, the abrupt nature showed a lack of proper communication with the people that make the faculty what it is: the students.

In the aftermath of such a last-minute decision, accompanied by an unwillingness to figure out viable alternatives, feelings of disconnect and disappointment can easily arise. Without effective communication between administration and students, school spirit dwindles.

Now, the future of this proud tradition is up in the air. This challenge is to be solved by strengthening communication efforts between the engineering faculty and its dedicated students. Having fallen under the scrutiny of Health Canada, the next step for university engineering societies is searching for possible alternatives to gentian violet that keep the purple spirit elevated and radiant, without posing any detrimental health risks.

Mélina Lévesque is a fourth-year Anthropology and Political Science student at Victoria College.

U of T students win first place in AutoDrive Challenge for engineering self-driving car

Victory marks second consecutive year that aUToronto came first in the international competition for car named Zeus

U of T students win first place in AutoDrive Challenge for engineering self-driving car

A team of U of T engineering and computer science students won first place in an international self-driving car competition in Michigan in July. The group, named aUToronto, pitted its vehicle Zeus against those from seven other North American universities.

This victory marks the second consecutive year that the team has won first place in the AutoDrive Challenge, as it did last year against the same competitors. The competition, run by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International and General Motors, will hold its final round for this three-year cycle in 2020.

The team scored first in eight categories

aUToronto won first place in eight of nine categories this year, defeating competitors from the University of Waterloo, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech University, Kettering University, Virginia Tech, North Carolina A&T State University, and Texas A&M University.

For its ability to recognize traffic signs, such as speed limits and ‘do not enter’ signs, as well as respond appropriately to them, aUToronto’s Zeus won first place in the Traffic Control Sign Challenge.

aUToronto’s car also placed first in the Pedestrian Challenge, which tested cars on their ability to wait for pedestrian replicas to completely cross a road before proceeding, as well as in the MCity Challenge, which required the vehicles to navigate around obstacles such as a tunnel and railroad crossing.

“Correctly detecting and classifying all the traffic lights and signs was more difficult than we anticipated,” reflected aUToronto Team Lead Keenan Burnett in an email to The Varsity.

The team’s approach to the problem, which utilized deep neural networks, or systems of artificial neurons, required substantial tuning and data collection to work effectively.

Zeus further secured first place in the Intersection Challenge and tied for first in the Mapping Challenge.

One key aspect to the team’s success here can be attributed to the realization that “relying only on GPS/IMU for positioning [could have been] risky.”

“We opted to integrate a more advanced localization software that uses [a laser system called] LIDAR instead,” wrote Burnett. “This proved to be one [of] the keys to our success at the competition.”

aUToronto also scored first in the categories of Social Responsibility Report, Social Responsibility Presentation, and Concept Design Presentation. The team placed second in Concept Design.

Origins of aUToronto and Zeus

“The team’s inception traces back to when SAE was soliciting applications from universities to compete in their new self-driving competition,” wrote Burnett.

“The idea is that they would select the [eight] top university applications based on the quality of the proposals, the backing of the university, and facilities that would be made available to students.”

Cristina Amon, U of T’s Dean of Engineering at the time, requested Professor Tim Barfoot to submit a proposal in 2017, according to Burnett. Professors Barfoot and Angela Schoellig, from the U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), partnered to submit the proposal and were selected as one of the eight competing university teams.

Burnett, who was then applying to be a graduate student at UTIAS, asked Barfoot if a position was available to run the team. He was hired after an interview in April.

“From then, I built the year 1 team up from scratch,” wrote Burnett. “We hired a small set of students with excellent technical and leadership skills to head the sub-teams for the first year of the competition.”

Burnett then let the sub-team leads hire their own sub-team members. New members have been recruited roughly every four months since the fall of 2017.

Around 100 students are on the team, according to Burnett. Undergraduates comprise 90 per cent of the team, while graduate students make up the remaining 10 per cent. Students primarily study electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, engineering science, and computer science.

In terms of resources, aUToronto received a Chevrolet Bolt Electric Vehicle and an Intel compute server from the competition’s organizers. The team then acquired sensors and developed infrastructure around the Bolt to turn it into a fully self-driving car.

“The turnaround between receiving the vehicle and shipping it off to compete in the Year 1 competition was just 6 months,” wrote Burnett.

The team then competed in the second round of the AutoDrive Challenge earlier this year.

“We still have a third year of the competition coming up,” wrote Burnett. “It will be held at the Ohio Transportation Research Center. We anticipate needing to handle dynamic [challenges] and [drive] at much higher speeds.”

Women in STEM: Civil engineering professor Marianne Hatzopoulou

How her interdisciplinary contributions could improve the quality of urban life

Women in STEM: Civil engineering professor Marianne Hatzopoulou

Associate Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou researches transportation and air quality at U of T’s Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering. She discussed her experience as a woman professor in the most male-dominated field in STEM to The Varsity, and why she believes that positive self-perception is crucial for women to succeed in STEM fields. 

What it means to be an engineer

Hatzopoulou’s research team looks at the generation of vehicle emissions, emission dispersal in urban areas, the effects of emissions on populations, and the population’s exposure to air pollution. 

The goal of her research is to advise new policymakers and government agencies to make informed decisions about investing in transportation. Her advisement helps reduce the emission of greenhouse gases associated with these investments, which could improve both air quality and public health in cities.

This interdisciplinary work is not classified as traditional civil engineering. 

Civil engineering is defined by the U of T program website as the “design, construction and maintenance of structures and infrastructure.” 

Following her completion of her Bachelor’s of Science in physics in 1999, she grew interested in research that was not at the time under the umbrella of physics research. This led her to study civil engineering, completing a Master of Science in 2001, and a Ph.D. in the field at U of T in 2008.

“[The way] I identify as being a civil engineer,” explained Professor Hatzopoulou, “is [with] the kind of questions that I am asking and to whom they are relevant.”

The reality of research

To Hatzopoulou, interdisciplinary research is essential to solving major problems in the world. “The questions the world is asking,” she said, “Are so complex that there is no single discipline that can actually answer those questions.” 

She has applied her research to solving everyday problems through an online tool named the Clean Ride Mapper

The Clean Ride Mapper is a map that allows cyclists to plan their routes and navigate Toronto with minimal exposure to air pollutants. 

The idea came from a need to disseminate research results. It originated from a map generated of sampling campaigns, which was then developed into a statistical model to spatially interpolate air pollution in different locations. 

“It wasn’t a research project,” she explained, “It’s really a dissemination project. It’s a way to disseminate research results in a way that’s meaningful for the public.” 

Research dissemination is essential according to Professor Hatzopoulou, as “people have the right” to access research. 

The power of perception

The most difficult gender-based challenge she has experienced is the perception of her as a woman in engineering. 

“Sometimes you’re the only one around the table participating in decision-making at any different level,” she explained. “It has nothing to do with your capability — it has to do with how people perceive you.”

“The challenge is always in the sense of making yourself heard, making sure that your opinions are actually weighed at the same level as anyone else’s opinion.”

The importance of woman role models

Throughout a 12-year academic career, Hatzopoulou had only one course with a woman professor.

While she was not mentored by a woman, she realizes the importance of woman interaction and support through her woman graduate students. 

“Being in academia,” she explained, “you constantly feel that you are not doing enough.”

What Hatzopoulou is describing is imposter syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome was defined by the Scientific American as “a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” 

She reinforces the concept to her students, especially women, that the effects they may experience from imposter syndrome stem from flawed self-perception, rather than a lack of genuine ability. 

“It’s the sense that… most women constantly feel that they’re less able, and [it] has nothing to do with their abilities.”

Women, stressed Hatzopoulou, are “as able.”

A dyeing tradition: Engineering F!rosh practice linked to cancer

Ingestion of purple dye poses risk, warns Health Canada following years-long international investigation

A dyeing tradition: Engineering F!rosh practice linked to cancer

They’re a familiar September sight on St. George campus: newly-minted engineering students with their skin stained a bright purple.

Large vats of violet dye and crowds of eager first-year students ready to submerge themselves are common to frosh orientation events at engineering faculties across Canada. The origin and meaning of the tradition are shrouded in mystery, but the infusion of the chemical gentian violet to a dyeing solution has become iconic.

The custom has now come under scrutiny due to a Health Canada warning, which associates the ingestion of gentian violet with an increased risk of cancer.

Warning stemmed from investigation by United Nations

The warning was issued on June 12, but gentian violet’s toxicity has been studied for some time. The seeds of what would become Health Canada’s advisory were sown in 2013 in a report written by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

The JECFA is composed of medical experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both are organs of the United Nations.

Although the report was the first JECFA evaluation of gentian violet, the publication was more akin to a literature review than an experimental study. The investigators searched the databases Medline, CABI, Agricola, and Toxnet for studies on the toxicity of gentian violet.

Health Canada also provided its own collation and review of data on the chemical. The team reviewed papers dated as far back as 1980.

Gentian violet is typically used as a component of veterinary disinfectants, and the majority of the JECFA report concerns how much gentian violet residue could be found in the remains of food-producing animals. However, an important finding was that gentian violet can bind to and alter DNA.

The researchers also noted chemical similarities of the dye to malachite green, another chemical already acknowledged as carcinogenic. Accordingly, the expert committee resolved that there could not be an acceptable daily intake of gentian violet for humans.

International representatives debate over wording of advisory

Following the report’s publication, the JEFCA’s results were forwarded to the Codex Committee on Veterinary Drugs in Food (CCRVDF). The CCRVDF is a subsidiary of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, another joint FAO-WHO organization that oversees food-related advisories worldwide. The next convening of the CCRVDF came in 2015, two years after the JECFA’s determination.

Various national delegations to the CCRVDF agreed that a Risk Management Recommendation (RMR) needed to be applied to gentian violet, but they disputed over its precise wording.

Throughout three sessions, spanning from 2015–2018, the Commission debated the inclusion of a sentence specifically condemning the use of the chemical on food-producing animals.

Ultimately, in an April 2018 report, the committee decided to exclude the precise condemnation to “allow member countries to choose appropriate risk management approaches to prevent residues of Gentian Violet in food.”

This RMR was then sent for approval to the entire Codex Alimentarius Commission, which it received in July 2018.

Where does Health Canada come in?

Upon receiving notice of the RMR, Health Canada initiated its own review process to confirm the findings. This involved the analysis of Canadian reports of illness associated with gentian violet before comparing local findings to international reports.

After nearly a year of study, researchers decided that although there were no cases of gentian violet being linked to cancer in humans, the reports of carcinogenicity in animals were enough to warrant a warning.

The department then worked with manufacturers to remove from circulation the single human non-prescription medication and nine veterinary medications available in Canada that list gentian violet as an ingredient.

Three licensed medical devices continue to use gentian violet as part of a sterile dressing. However, Health Canada has assessed that they do not pose a risk to human health due to the short exposure time of gentian violet to patients.

Risk of applying gentian violet to skin is unclear

It is important to note that the entire process of investigation into gentian violet has been focused on toxicity if ingested, which is typically not a component of engineering orientation activities. Health Canada acknowledged this focus in its safety review on the substance, explicitly stating that the result of applying gentian violet to the skin is “unknown.” 

“Generally, the amount of a chemical that can get absorbed through the skin is small, but this is chemical-dependent, and I’m not sure anyone has ever looked to see whether gentian violet gets into the systemic circulation after topical application,” wrote Dr. Denis Grant, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, to The Varsity.

“Some chemicals can cause skin cancer if they’re topically applied. All in all, given the theoretical plausibility and limited demonstrated evidence for a cancer link, in my opinion it would be prudent to avoid bathing in the stuff.”

Where will the engineering tradition go from here?

While the risks of using gentian violet are now evident, the dyeing tradition is seen as an integral component of engineering student culture that should be maintained.

“The Toike really loves the purple dye tradition!” wrote Joanna Melnyk, Editor-in-Chief of the Toike Oike, to The Varsity. The Toike Oike is a humour publication managed by U of T’s Engineering Society for the purpose of commenting on aspects of engineering culture. 

Melnyk continued, “We feel really cool with our sword(s), wooden sticks, and red wagon, looking like a gang of people with a strange skin condition wielding potentially dangerous items!”

While the tradition is planned to continue this September, the Engineering Society is dedicated to providing a safe F!rosh to all first-year engineering students.

“Although the health concerns with gentian violet pertain to quantities and uses different from our own, we will not be using this dye for Orientation Week,” wrote Ben Mucsi, Chair of the Engineering Society’s Orientation Committee, to The Varsity. “At this point, we have studied a broad range of alternatives and we want to make sure that we are thorough and careful in our decision-making.”

“We are being very diligent in evaluation of our options to ensure that we provide the safest and most enjoyable experience during Orientation Week,” he continued. “Our goal is to ensure that all incoming students have the option to safely participate in our long-standing tradition, and my team, in collaboration with the Engineering Society leadership, have been working hard throughout the summer to try to make that happen!”

UTSG: Decomposing Optimization Problems Under Stochastic Disruptions

This event is open to the public and registration is not required. Part of the Operations Research Seminar Series coordinated by Merve Bodur.


A stochastic disruption is a type of infrequent event in which the timing and the magnitude are random. We introduce the concept of stochastic disruptions and a stochastic optimization framework is proposed for such problems. In this talk, we present a special example: a project crashing problem under a single disruption. When a disruption occurs, the duration of an activity, which has not yet started, can change. Both the magnitude of the change of an activity’s duration and the timing of the disruption can be random. We prove that it is NP-hard to optimize the expected project span for this crashing problem, and illustrate its properties via examples. We formulate a stochastic mixed integer program (SMIP) with mixed integer recourse. This SMIP is computationally challenging to solve using existing techniques. We propose an adaptive branch-and-cut algorithm to solve the SMIP and evaluate the computational performance of our approach. Further extensions of such optimization models under stochastic disruptions can be applied to power system operations.

Speaker Bio

Haoxiang Yang is joining the Center for Nonlinear Studies (CNLS) at Los AlamosNational Laboratory as a post-doc research associate. His research focuses on the modeling and decomposition algorithms of optimization under uncertainty, specifically in stochastic programming and robust optimization, with applications in supply chain and logistics, disaster relief, and energy systems. He holds a PhD degree in Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.


The Operations Research (OR) seminar series brings together graduate students, faculty and researchers from the University of Toronto community to interact with prominent scholars in the field of OR. Seminars feature visiting scholars from around the world as well as professors and post-docs. Topics include all variants of OR theory and their applications. Questions? Contact Merve Bodur at bodur@mie.utoronto.ca

Blue Sky Solar Racing unveils new solar-powered race car

Viridian will compete in race of over 3000 kilometres across Australia

Blue Sky Solar Racing unveils new solar-powered race car

A team of U of T Engineering undergraduate students named Blue Sky Solar Racing unveiled Viridian, the 10th generation of its solar-powered race car, in its first public unveiling event on June 24.

For over 22 years, different compositions of the team designed, built, and raced solar-powered cars, creating a new generation every two years.

This year, Blue Sky Solar Racing completed the design and manufacture of Generation X. The vehicle was showcased to the public for the first time at Myhal Centre Auditorium.

Race car’s manufacture celebrated by keynote speakers

The buzzing audience included team alumni, sponsors, and staff from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. Around 200 guests attended in total.

Following an introduction by Managing Director Hubaab K. Hussain, two professors delivered remarks onstage.

Professor Amy Bilton, the Director of the Centre of Global Engineering, discussed her experiences as an alumna of Blue Sky Solar Racing. She reflected on her involvement as the Aerodynamics Team Lead in 2006, and noted that the team puts in an incredible amount of effort each year.

“[The team members] are basically doing more than a full-time job at the same time as they are doing a full load of engineering courses,” she said.

Professor Cristopher Yip, the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, also spoke at the event, and congratulated the team on their successful manufacture of Generation X.

The unveiling of Viridian onstage

In a wave of applause, team members pulled back the curtain to reveal their feat of design.

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Viridian is a boat-shaped solar-powered race car with a length of approximately three metres. The hood of the vehicle is covered with an array of solar panels. A glass hemisphere swells from the middle of the car, serving as the windshield.

In an interview with The Varsity, Hussain said that Viridian can reach a top speed of 120 kilometres per hour according to previous testing.

He said that the team continues to work on testing and characterizing the car ⁠— in addition to getting some much-needed sleep. This will be in preparation for racing Viridian in the international Bridgestone World Solar Challenge this autumn.

Racing 3000 kilometres in Australia

Viridian’s race will be the seventh time that the team’s vehicle will make the cross-continental trip from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia. Travelling north to south of the country, Viridian will race a course of 3000 kilometres.

The competition is set to begin in October. Before then, the team will repeatedly test the car to get as much characterized information about its performance as possible. Details such as its power consumption at certain speeds, as well as how certain environmental conditions affect Viridian’s performance, are especially valuable.

Potential commercial applications

Outside of racing competitions, solar-powered cars have an immense commercial potential. Hussain highlighted Lightyear, a start-up electric car manufacturer in the Netherlands.

The European company released their first solar-powered electric car on the same day as Blue Sky Solar Racing’s unveiling event. Its new car, named Lightyear One, is set to be released on the market soon, with a listed price of €149,000 in the Netherlands, roughly equivalent to 218,400 CAD.

In addition to developing solar-powered race cars, Hussain said that Blue Sky Solar Racing also aims to provide opportunities to enrich the experiences of undergraduates.

“The [goal] of the [Blue Sky Solar Racing],” said Hussain, “is to provide students with an opportunity to grow and develop outside of the classroom, as well as promote sustainable technology.”

U of T team wins top prize at KPMG’s international AI competition

Paramount AI team created device that sorts waste with 94 per cent accuracy

U of T team wins top prize at KPMG’s international AI competition

A team of five U of T graduate students named Paramount AI won first place in KPMG’s 2019 Ideation Challenge, a worldwide competition to develop solutions to problems facing businesses using artificial intelligence (AI). KPMG is one of the world’s top four accounting firms.

The U of T students faced off against 600 participants from top universities across nine countries, including Canada, Australia, China, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

The final round was held from May 10–12 in Amsterdam, where the students — Maharshi Trivedi, Nikunj Viramgama, Aakash Iyer, Vaibhav Gupta, and Ganesh Vedula — won the top prize for their innovation, which used AI to automate waste segregation.

Paramount AI’s innovative solution

The winning innovation is a sorting system able to distinguish between three different categories of waste: recycling, organic, and garbage.

Iyer, who is specializing in data analytics and financial engineering, explained that the initial prototype of the system used LED light bulbs and basic circuits to classify the waste.

The five students worked continuously, with little breaks and limited sleep during the three days of the competition, which came at the expense of exploring Amsterdam.

The reward for their efforts came in the confirmation of the practicality of using the system in real-life situations. The device completed both a financial and market analysis by the end of the competition.

The importance of waste segregation

Viramgama, who is specializing in data analytics and data science, explained that the team chose to focus on the issue of waste segregation because they were concerned about improper sorting in Toronto.

He noted that about one in three residents in Toronto contaminate the waste they place in recycling bins, and that 20 per cent of waste placed in blue recycling bins ends up in a landfill.

Since there is limited landfill space, this has motivated government spending on improved waste management. An increase in spending may lead to a raise in taxes,which makes the emergence of automation in waste segregation something that can greatly benefit our waste management.

The U of T team tackled this issue by creating a system that accurately sorts waste about 94 per cent of the time. Current waste systems have an accuracy of only up to 74 per cent, and each percentage of accuracy translates to significant savings for spending on waste management.

The pressing need for a solution to this environmental problem, which has economic consequences, could be a reason why Paramount AI won the competition.

The other reason, explained Vedula, was that the team was “not only thinking about saving the environment, but… also trying to help businesses [maximize] profits.”

The future of Paramount AI

The next step for Paramount AI is to present their prototype to experts at KPMG’s annual AI summit in October. By then, the team hopes to further develop their model, aiming to continue increasing the accuracy of their system, while likely adding new features to increase the value of the product for potential clients.

The students currently have the intellectual property rights of their invention. With the support of KPMG, the team is interested in looking to commercialize their product.

They are also optimistic about the future of AI in positively shaping the lives of Torontonians, as a whole. “We completely believe that in the next few years, we will see AI being integrated in every part of our lives, because there is a huge potential,” said Vedula.

“[AI] is already involved in making our lives easier.”

U of T team wins McMaster designathon

Undergraduates design method to protect cameras on military aircraft

U of T team wins McMaster designathon

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.”