High-tech hoody and a teddy bear for the sensory impaired on show

The engineers of tomorrow will be showcasing their bright ideas at a special event being held at Coventry University this month.

Kimberley Coleman IET competition

Electronic Engineering student Kimberley Coleman from Coventry University with the computer controlled toy teddy bear that she is developing for children with special educational needs.

The University Project Evening, a competition co-sponsored by Coventry University and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Midlands Power Group, and supported by companies across the West Midlands, takes place from 6pm to 9pm on Wednesday 13 March.

The competition is open to universities in the West Midlands, with entries having been submitted from Coventry, Aston, Birmingham, Staffordshire and Warwick. It will be held at Coventry University’s new £55 million Engineering and Computing Building, which HRH the Princess Royal officially opened in February.

The state-of-the-art building, which houses the latest in high-tech teaching facilities, is an apt setting for an occasion which aims to recognise and reward cutting-edge concepts from the next generation of engineers.

An IET panel of industry experts will assess the student submissions and reward those which offer creative, workable solutions to contemporary engineering challenges. Prizes will be awarded in categories ranging from sustainability and the environment through to communications and transport.

Last year’s competition, which Coventry University also hosted, showcased a number of engineering prototypes including a scaled down and fully functional flying “quadro-copter” and a model moon orbiting satellite which is now in the commercial development stage.

This year’s event promises some equally exciting projects, including an item of clothing – a high-tech hoody – which acts as a human interface device to control and manipulate sound signals.

Using a credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computer and wiring in its sleeves, the hoody’s built in control systems – accelerometers, a microcontroller and a Bluetooth module – allow the wearer to produce sounds such as sword swipes and punches via physical gestures.

In its current form the hoody primarily provides a sensory output for movement but the idea is that it could be easily expanded to form a more natural method of controlling computer systems – an area of research in which Coventry University’s electronic engineering team is making great inroads.

Using microelectronics and a synergy of small mechanical devices the University is developing android based extra sensory tools that will enhance human interaction with computers and machinery through robotic guidance and tactile control systems.

Amongst the other projects entered in the competition is a toy teddy bear for children with special needs, specifically those with autism. Aimed at children aged three to seven years and designed to help develop their motor skills, the computer controlled teddy bear has an integrated touch screen, microphone, speakers and pressure sensors. Its inbuilt software can be programmed to monitor a child’s progress and hosts a platform for developers to create tailored educational apps for specific learning needs.

The sensory teddy bear and high–tech hoody will be on show as part of the competition on 13 March along with other exhibits, designs, drawings and working models, including robots and autonomous vehicles devised by the microelectronics team within Coventry University’s Aerospace and Electronic Engineering department.

Robert Jinks, programme manager of Coventry University’s electric and electronic engineering courses and Honorary Secretary of the IET Midlands Power Group, is coordinating the event and has first sight of the entries which will be presented on the evening.

Robert said: “Coventry University is playing a key role in the organisation of this prestigious competition and its involvement represents a massive endorsement by the Institution of Engineering and Technology and industry supporters who have been hugely impressed with the University’s approach in leading and facilitating technological innovation.

“Creativity in engineering, electronics and computing is what this competition is all about and some really exciting projects have been submitted. The high-tech hoody and sensory teddy bear are good examples.

“The idea of a motion sensitive piece of ‘computer clothing’ sounds like a prop from a sci-fi film but in reality it’s actually something that could be developed for use in industry and there is a shortage of electronic educational toys for children with special needs so it’s pleasing to see the sensory teddy bear in development.

“The IET competition encourages students to apply their engineering skills for the wider benefit of society and I know that’s something they enjoy but it’s also an experience that will enhance their future career prospects as it challenges their skills under professional conditions and to industry standards.

“The students have responded superbly to the test that they have been set and I am confident that their efforts, which we’re proud to show off at the event on 13 March, will further enhance the reputation of the West Midlands as a centre of engineering excellence.”

The University Project Evening takes place from 6pm to 9pm in the Engineering and Computing Building, Coventry University, Gulson Road, Coventry CV1 2JH on Wednesday 13 March 2013. The University Project evening is free of charge and is open to IET members and non-members alike. No registration is necessary.

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