January 31, 2015 -- BIT Magazine Drones, robots, 3D printing, titanium implants, medical gear, alternative energy, Arudino and Raspberry Pi sensors, smart grids, smart LEDs, and most importantly, very smart students and professors, made up this year's Chula Engineering Innovation Expo 2015.
The expo showcased the latest projects turned out by Chula's engineering students. What's most interesting about this year's projects was the convergence between traditional university projects, research, and development and the emerging maker paradigm.
A lot of the projects were fabricated traditionally within Chula's machine shop, but the influence of more accessible personal manufacturing and open source hardware and software was clearly evident.
Innovations indeed! Everything from energy and manufacturing to healthcare, automation, and agriculture. A tension generator for cell culturing and a roving robot welcoming guests, both projects of HiveGround (a team formed by Chula alumni) showed off the variety tomorrow's engineers and designers posses.
Other biomedical technology on display was a device used to rehabilitate stroke victims. In cooperation with Chula's medical department, the device on display at the expo was used specifically to rehabilitate a patient's fingers.
There were also titanium implants on display. Created by scanning a patient's injuries and developing an implant by printing it in 3D using wax, then using the wax for casting the final part in titanium, the entire process takes under 24 hours. The timely manner and accuracy implants can be produced with is perhaps the most striking aspect of the project, now moving on to in-vitro testing and then onto animal models and eventually to clinical applications.
Agricultural tech included a biogas reactor for single batch reactions. It is used to test and analyze the characteristics of different feed stocks, giving engineers a better idea of what takes place inside a reaction and allowing them to develop more efficient, permanent systems for gas and power production.
There was also an aquaculture filtration system being demonstrated. A smaller model of a much larger system used for experiments on campus, it showed the process of removing ammonia and other waste from an aquaculture system. Readers pursuing aquaponics will most likely recognize the different elements of the system and how it relates to growing plants and fish together.
Rounding up agricultural tech was an enclosed, automatic compost reactor. Using anaerobic digestion, organic material is broken down and converted into high-value organic fertilizer. The device, while only a prototype, resembled a high-tech appliance that would be welcomed into an urban agriculture enthusiast's home.
Mapping drones including a long-range fixed-wing model and a shorter-range mutli-rotor design were on display, as were the high-resolution maps they've produced.
Finally, energy and automation occupied several booths. The "Chulalongkorn University Building Energy Management System," or CUBEMS for short, is a complicated name for an elegant energy management system. The app is slick and takes a mundane subject like "energy management" and turns it into something out of Star Trek. Stats for energy consumption in every room of 6 buildings in total across Chula's campus are at a user's disposal. Everything from temperature to lighting conditions to humidity and motion is recorded and displayed in real time. CUBEMS knows all of this because in each room and on every floor, are sensors using open source Arduino and Raspberry Pi to relay the information to the central network.
|XBee, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi's were used to create the sensors that make up CUBEMS. Open source hardware and other mainstays of the maker movement are finding their way into mainstream academic engineering.|
Not only are these stats available, but the ability to set automated profiles, or manually adjust lighting and temperature in any of the rooms on the network is possible. Users in each room will also receive notifications if quotas on energy consumption are set and they are about to exceed them -- sort of like a data plan.
The Chula system includes a micro-wind turbine and roof-mounted solar panels which also have been optimized in another project located near CUBEMS' booth.
|Professor Bancha Ounpanich proves that big results can be achieved on small budgets.|
Professor Bancha Ounpanich was also displaying projects dealing with smart systems, automation, and environmental controls. His LED project sampled light in a room using an sensor then adjusted the light level automatically. Another project included an artificial environment where temperature, humidity, and oxygen levels were controlled automatically. The system was cheap to build but the results were more than effective, replacing very expensive commercial equipment and allowing students the ability to conduct more tests and research.
Convergence of Makers and Academic Engineering
Since we are a maker magazine, we were particularly interested in how many of these projects were actually fabricated. While many were still fabricated on campus using the university's machining equipment, a careful observer could see components that were 3D printed, spot XBee's tying together CUBEMS smart grid system, or open source 3D printing software running next to scratch-built 3D printers.
Universities have traditionally been the epicenter of technological progress. Institutions like MIT in the US are icons of technological innovation. In Thailand, Chula, Mahidol, KMUTT and many others serve this role locally. As makerspaces grow and the Thai maker community overall develops, we can see how these will serve to drive innovation on a more widespread and collaborative level. While universities will still set the standard in academic technological development, their big ideas will filter into the maker community where they can be developed faster and more freely untethered by the constraints of writing publications, seeking patents, and awaiting reviews.
Talking with the team members from HiveGround, they said university students don't per say need a "makerspace," because they already have a fully equipped workshop on campus, but added that while such workshops help students who have access to them, makerspaces surely help communities.
Considering this, the maker movement might think of ways to connect with talent being cultivated at universities and link these two worlds together. At the end of the day, walking past these innovations and talking with their creators, it's clear professional engineers, researchers, and makers all speak the same language and share the same enthusiasm regarding the potential of technology.
BIT Magazine is a bi-lingual platform for Thailand's maker movement to connect, grow, and collaborate with maker communities abroad. Follow us on Twitter here or on Facebook here.