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Legacy Projects at the School of Engineering

The works of final-year students from the School of Engineering can take on a life of their own even after graduation. We look at five projects remembered for their innovation and longevity

By Gordon Ng

Long after the students have graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Engineering, the projects they breathed life into remain. These ‘legacy projects’ that are passed down from generation to generation of students to work on until completion often seek to fill important needs in Singapore.

Although not all projects turn out as successfully as their creators would have hoped, they continue to be fondly remembered by lecturers and students alike.

Robocoach ‘Xuan’

The robocoach, which has already seen significant cosmetic improvements over its first iteration, is currently being worked on to include more features for the elderly, such as games and English lessons. | Photo courtesy of School of Engineering, Electrical Engineering Division

The robocoach, which has already seen significant cosmetic improvements over its first iteration, is currently being worked on to include more features for the elderly, such as games and English lessons. | Photo courtesy of School of Engineering, Electrical Engineering Division

Named after one of its creators, student Lim Pei Xuan, the robot Xuan is the brainchild of Electrical Engineering (EE) students to teach and guide elders through exercise routines. It was created in partnership with Lions Home for the Elders in 2014. Now commissioned by the Infocomm Development Authority and Ministry of Social and Family Development in its second generation, five units have been deployed to senior activity centres. Its articulated arms can lift and swing to pre-set or customised routines, and its Kinect camera sensor allows it to track the elderly’s movements in small groups of six.

With this, the robot is able to suggest corrections to the elderly to perfect their routines. Its current generation saw a cosmetic improvement over the first and the addition of language options for Mandarin and Cantonese. Mr Li Yin Bei, 33, who is overseeing the project, says they are working on including games and English lessons in the next iteration.

Smart Bed ‘CRIB’

Currently implemented at the Institute of Mental Health, the 'CRIB' alerts staff when patients try to get out of bed without their knowledge. | Photo courtesy of School of Engineering, Electrical Engineering Division

Currently implemented at the Institute of Mental Health, the ‘CRIB’ alerts staff when patients try to get out of bed without their knowledge. | Photo courtesy of School of Engineering, Electrical Engineering Division

One of EE’s ‘legacy projects’ is the Fall Prevention System, which has been worked on and improved since 2003. One of its pioneering students and now a member of the school’s staff is Mr Li Yin Bei. Its current iteration goes by the moniker ‘CRIB’, which stands for Complete Rest In Bed, and is currently being tested at the Institute of Mental Health. It works by including sensors at the edges of the bed frames that alert healthcare providers and staff when patients try to get off their beds.

One EE lecturer even started a company with the goal of putting the system in commercial use, although it folded soon after. Mrs Lek-Lim Geok Choo, who is in her 50s, Director of the Electrical Engineering Division, explains the difficulty in getting these projects off the ground: “The challenge is finding a producer that can license the product. We don’t know who can develop it, but we’re hoping it will take off one day.”

My Guardian Angel

The elderly monitoring system is part of the Smart Home Concept that deals with elderly safety. The focus is the large number of elderly who live alone in public housing apartments. First spawned in 2006, sensors were built into the flooring of houses to detect falls and the subsequent lack of movement.

The system would then alert nearby nursing homes to send someone to check on the elderly in case of injury. It also sought to track and observe diet and sleep patterns to alert families of potential health issues. Called ‘My Guardian Angel’, the current edition is still being worked on to perfect its function and tie-ins with vendors.

Le Tach Vending Machine

Using cashless sales services, the Le Tach vending machine was created with the purpose of easing internal staff use in shopping malls. | Photo courtesy of School of Engineering, Mechanical Engineering Division

Using cashless sales services, the Le Tach vending machine was created with the purpose of easing internal staff use in shopping malls. | Photo courtesy of School of Engineering, Mechanical Engineering Division

Students were tasked in 2014 to improve on Le Tach vending machines with the focus on internal staff use at shopping malls. The key additions were cashless sales services and infrastructure for staff to use redeemable digital tokens. Mr Hui Tin Fat, a Senior Manager with the SOE’s Electronic & Computer Engineering Division (ECE) for the past 15 years, says that such real-world applications “increase students’ engagement and their passion is shown when they’re on-site with the work”.

The main challenge, according to Mr Hui, is to create a viable system locally that can compete with the majority of imported machines from China and Japan. The Le Tach vending machines are currently in their second phase of development, with a focus on adding touch screen functionality and the inclusion of a proprietary Singaporean computer system instead of PCs.

SBS Guided Rail System

The team of students behind the SBS Guided Rail may see their project in widespread use, as the project is currently going through live tests on train tracks. | Photo courtesy of School of Engineering, Mechanical Engineering Division

The team of students behind the SBS Guided Rail may see their project in widespread use, as the project is currently going through live tests on train tracks. | Photo courtesy of School of Engineering, Mechanical Engineering Division

A project that could see itself in widespread use is the SBS Guided Rail system by ECE students first started in 2015. The problem: guide rails on MRT train tracks are prone to fluctuating widths, which call for response and maintenance to keep the service running smoothly. After 2015’s train breakdowns and service disruptions, this maintenance has a particular urgency.

The Guided Rail system works by attaching sensors to the rails that give real-time updates to MRT staff, alerting them when maintenance is required, as opposed to scheduled checks that might miss existing problems. The first phase is currently being tested live on train tracks, and its second phase goal is to compare manual measurements to the sensors’ to ensure accuracy.

Mr Hui says that when such projects are adopted, it “can give a sense of achievement and morale you can’t get from some projects on campus”.

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