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Students design products to help environment and disabled people

By Julia Ng, Channel NewsAsia
11 June 2007

SINGAPORE: More students are being drawn to find commercially-viable solutions to help the community.

A mechanical innovation in five weeks, complete with a business plan to make sure it sells - that was the challenge to 600 Mechanical Engineering students at the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Engineering Innovation and Design Competition.

The competition, now into its eighth year, is seeing students turn into technopreneurs.

For one group, water-conservation is a Turnon - the name of their proposed company which invented 'Flowminator'.

It automatically stops water from over-flowing in a bath tub.

Ernest Pang, second year mechanical engineering student, NTU, said: "We're looking to manufacture the product in China in a city called NingBoGe. We've contacted a firm in China, and the cost of production has worked out to be $7. We're looking to sell it [at a] retail price of around $35 in Japan.

"Japan has a rich tradition of having bathtubs in the household. In Japan, the tourism and resort industry is also booming, so we're expecting more hotels and resorts to be springing up.

"We're looking into the possibility of collaborating with hotels and resorts to actually use our product."

Asst Professor David Lee Butler, School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Singapore Institute of Manufacting Tech, said: "This goes back to 1999 when we decided to give our students a chance to become technopreneurs.

"So we set up the scheme with a business plan... [to] come up with an idea, and [commercialise] it. So really, to give them a hand, to give it a try."

Another environment-friendly solution - a mechanical system which circulates cool air in cars parked under the sun.

Safety is also an area of interest.

A Follow-Me-Not device will force you to put a brake on the accelerator, once it senses that you are tailgating.

It is one-up on a current Japanese innovation which only beeps but does not slow you down when you are too close to the car in front.

Students hope the Land Transport Authority can make the device a mandatory installation in every vehicle.

Among the winning designs in the category of Safety is the Rotational Window, which can clean outer window panes safely.

Assistive Technologies is seeing simple mechanical innovations meet design to improve the lives of the elderly and disabled.

One example is a wheelchair to make it easier for them to use the toilet.

Or a simple fixture to help elevate them to reach for things stored on higher shelves.

"Now it's in the eighth year and we've had 5,000 students on the scheme. This year the quality is quite good, I'm quite happy. Some amazing ideas such as the fish scaling device and the shuttlecock launcher," said Mr Butler.

There is no limit to innovation and creativity.

An automated shuttlecock launcher, which can adjust the launching angle of shuttlecocks, came in tops in terms of design.

Currently there are no mechanical shuttlecock launchers in the market.

But this launcher can not only be produced at a low cost, but also help beginners execute different strokes.

Another practical design is a retractable bamboo system that improves safety when drying laundry. It also comes with a plastic cover to keep out the rain.

The above are just a few examples of the 52 innovations that may just find their way into our homes and lives, once these young technopreneurs find the right investors. - CNA/yy

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