Posts Categorized: Alumni News

Former EngSci Chair Rod Tennyson inducted into EAN Hall of Distinction

Two photos of Prof. Tennyson: on the left a black and white picture of the UTIAS team that helped the Apollo 13 mission gathered around a table in a classroom with chalkboard in the background; on the right a photo of Prof. Tennyson today.

Professor Emeritus Rod Tennyson (second from left in the left picture) was part of a team from the U of T Institute for Aerospace Studies that helped the Apollo 13 mission land safely.

 

Members of the U of T Engineering community were recognized on November 4 at the virtual 2021 Engineering Alumni Network (EAN) Awards Ceremony. Alumni and friends from around the world joined the lively evening to honour eleven graduates and students for their outstanding professional achievements and contributions to their communities.

Professor Emeritus and former EngSci Chair Rod Tennyson (EngSci 6T0, UTIAS MASc 6T1, PhD 6T5) was inducted into the EAN Hall of Distinction, an assembly of extraordinary alumni, selected for membership by their peers for their lifelong accomplishments. Located in the Sandford Fleming Building, the Hall of Distinction is a familiar daily presence in the lives of students and is often visited by alumni and their families.

“I would like to extend my congratulations to Rod on receiving this recognition and thank him for his many contributions to U of T Engineering,” says Professor Will Cluett, Director of the Division of Engineering Science.

Tennyson has been a pioneering leader in aerospace engineering research and education and over the course of his career spearheaded the creation of new research, entrepreneurship, and teaching initiatives.

In 1970, while still a junior professor at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), Tennyson was part of the U of T team that helped Apollo 13 land safely after experiencing critical damage from an explosion during a mission to the moon.

He became a full professor in 1974, and served as Chair of the Division of Engineering Science from 1982-1985 .

He was later appointed Director of UTIAS for two terms, from 1985 – 1995. Under his leadership a new wing was added to UTIAS facilities to accommodate new research areas. He also implemented a new program that provided incubation laboratory space for start-up companies formed by graduate students.  He was appointed founding Director of the University of Toronto’s Government Research Infrastructure Program (GRIP) office , helping to secure over $400 million dollars in funding for researchers across the University over just four years.

He was a Founding Member of the International Space University (ISU) headquartered in Strasbourg, France, and President of the Canadian Foundation for ISU (CFISU) from its inception
in 1987 to 2001. He has also served as a consultant to the Federal Government in the early creation of the Ministry of State for Science and Technology, and as member of the first
Canadian Defence Science Advisory Board.

Tennyson has been a Board member of the Canadian Institute for Aerospace Research and the federal Centre of Excellence, Intelligent Structures for Innovative Systems, and served as Board member and Interim Director of the Ontario provincial Centre of Excellence, the Institute for Space and Terrestrial Science.

Over the last decade, Tennyson has focused his engineering and leadership expertise on bringing clean drinking water to tens of millions of people in the Sahel region of Africa.  He has worked tirelessly to bring the 8,000-kilometre Trans-Africa Pipeline (TAP) to reality in the hopes of alleviating human suffering and environmental degradation.


EngSci alumnus establishes fellowships to support research in AI and robotics

Photo of EngSci alumnus Steven Truong

Steven Truong and his company VinBrain have created eight new fellowships which will provide undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to catalyze research at the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics

 

Steven Truong (EngSci 8T9) was just 17 when he moved to Canada from Vietnam in the 1980s to study Engineering Science at U of T.  Now the successful computer engineer and entrepreneur is giving back to U of T Engineering by supporting undergraduate and graduate research in AI and robotics related to Smart Cities, Smart Health and the Internet of Things.

Truong believes that each of us has the power to leave this place better than we found it. After more than 12 years as a senior leader in artificial intelligence (AI) at Microsoft, he recently a founded VinBrain to use AI to help create more equitable healthcare.

 

Screenshot of a chest x-ray and the AI-based app developed by Steven Truong's company.

VinBrain has developed an AI-based assistant to help radiologists detect diseases faster and more accurately. (Photo courtesy: Steven Truong)

 

As AI and robotics play an ever-increasing role in our daily lives, Truong believes U of T Engineering students are in prime position to have a significant positive impact by applying technology to improve the lives of people around the world.

With a donation of $130,000 he and his company have created the VinBrain AI Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowships and the VinBrain AI Graduate Student Fellowships. These fellowships will provide funding to undergraduate students and PhD students working with U of T’s many experts in these areas, including in the Centre for Analytics and Artificial Intelligence Engineering (CARTE) and the University of Toronto Robotics Institute.

Learn more about Steven Truong and his motivation to support U of T Engineering.

“Being able to spend the summer in internationally renowned research groups working at the leading edge is an invaluable experience for undergraduate engineering students,” says Professor Will Cluett, EngSci’s Director. “We are very grateful to Steven Truong for establishing these fellowships and encouraging students to apply their skills to improving the lives of others.”


Are you interested in supporting students in the Division of Engineering Science?
Find giving opportunities here.


ParkinSense: EngSci alumnus helps design award-winning medical monitoring system

ParkinSense is a medical monitoring system that uses wearables to provide detailed, real-time data on the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It can be used to objectively determine the effectiveness of treatment. (Image courtesy of ParkinSense)

 

EngSci alumnus Christopher Lucasius (1T7 PEY, ECE PhD candidate) and his colleagues are among the five winning teams from Hatchery Demo Day 2021 that will share $80,000 in seed funding.

They have designed a system called ParkinSense that can provide real-time information about tremors in people living with Parkinson’s disease to their physicians.  The system can expedite treatment and track its effectiveness.

Read the full story and watch their video in the U of T Engineering News.


Student team studies human genetics in microgravity

TelOmG Team Photo

The members of team TelOmG, from left to right, are Erin Richardson (EngSci Year 4), Anthony Piro, Miranda Badovinac in the top row; Taylor Peters, Dunja Matic (both EngSci Year 4), Luca Castelletto (EngSci Year 3) in the middle row; Samantha Aberdein, Emma Belhadfa (EngSci Year 3), Nicole Richardson, Krish Joshi, and MacKenzie Campbell (EngSci 2T0 + PEY, ChemE MASc candidate) in the bottom row. (Photos courtesy of team TelOmG)

 

A team of U of T students is preparing to see their research take off next week. They are among just six university teams from across Canada selected to conduct a study in a microgravity environment aboard the National Research Council Canada’s (NRC) Falcon-20 jet — the same plane used to train the Canadian Space Agency’s astronauts. 

As part of the Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Design Challenge (CAN-RGX), the team, called TelOmG, has spent the past year designing and building a unique experiment to examine the impact of spaceflight on astronauts’ genes. 

During the flight, scheduled for August 19, the students will investigate the effects of changes in gravity on the genetic regulation of human telomeres. Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes that are linked to genomic stability. Shortening of telomeres is associated with aging, while lengthening can be associated with cancer. 

The idea for the experiment came to team lead Erin Richardson (EngSci Year 4) while reading NASA’s landmark Twins Study, an investigation of spaceflight’s effects on the human body. The study examined astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a year in space, and his twin brother Mark who remained earthbound, and found Scott’s telomeres unexpectedly grew longer during his space flight. They returned to normal shortly after his return to Earth. In contrast, his twin’s telomeres remained stable during the same period.   

“Our experiment investigates whether this increase in telomere length was due to reduced gravity or some other factor, such as increased radiation or stress during the spaceflight,” says Richardson. 

Flying parabolic manoeuvres on the NRC’s Falcon 20 will allow the team to isolate microgravity from the other factors present on the International Space Station. However, while Scott Kelly spent months in space, the experiment will only undergo five periods of 20 seconds of microgravity each. 

The students had to devise a way to test whether telomeres are affected by microgravity in under 20 seconds. “Telomere length won’t change that fast,” says Richardson. “The key was to focus on the transcription of the genes that control them. Previous studies found transcriptomes changed significantly within 20 seconds of altered gravity.” 

Richardson has built her team with students from EngSci’s aerospace and biomedical systems majors and the life sciences: MacKenzie Campbell (EngSci 2T0 + PEY, ChemE MASc candidate)Dunja MaticTaylor Peters (both EngSci Year 4), Emma BelhadfaLuca Castelletto (both EngSci Year 3), physiology master’s student Anthony Piro, Year 3 life sciences student Miranda Badovinac, and Grade 12 students Samantha Aberdein, Krish Joshi, and Nicole Richardson. 

The aerospace engineering team members focused on designing and building the physical apparatus while biomedical systems and life science students designed and tested the experiment’s scientific methods. 

“The team brought together students with different areas of expertise, several age groups, and diverse mentors. One of the beautiful things that happens when you bring together people with so many different backgrounds is the ingenuity in the questions they ask each other,” says Professor Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalez (BME), chair of EngSci’s biomedical systems major. “Those questions often challenge dogmas and assumptions, and can ultimately lead to amazing discoveries.” 

To test their hypothesis that microgravity contributes to changes in gene transcription related to telomeres, the students will “freeze cells in time” by preserving their nucleic acids before and after each short period of microgravity. They will analyze the nucleic acids after the flight for changes in the expression levels of genes that regulate telomeres.   

The experiment’s apparatus consists of a syringe filled with a stabilization solution and connected to a series of chambers containing live cells. The electronic control system will inject the solution into the correct chamber when manually triggered by the students on board the flight just before and after each period of microgravity. Some samples are frozen before any periods of hypergravity or microgravity to control for environmental conditions on board the jet. 

TelOmG injection system

The TelOmG injection system. (Graphic courtesy of team TelOmG)

The entire experiment had to fit into a 50 cm cube and weigh no more than 45 kg, among other constraints. “Little things that you wouldn’t normally consider are much more challenging in microgravity,” says Castello, the team’s mechanical lead. “For example, we had to ensure everything is absolutely leak-proof and secured so that there’s no chance of small components or liquid floating around the plane’s cabin. Since we are dealing with cells, we had to create a sterile system while also minimizing bubbles that could interfere with our fluid pathways.” 

Team TelOmG presented their proposal at the Johnson Space Centre Astronomical Society in June and has been invited to share their findings at the International Aeronautical Congress in Dubai in October. 

 Working in the midst of a pandemic presented additional challenges. Access to wet labs and lab safety training was restricted. “We’ve been blown away by the support we received from professors, researchers and private companies during this time,” says Belhadfa. “They helped us to get what we needed when public health restrictions created obstacles.”  

Team members also had to work on components in isolation for many months. “Normally when we work in a team and something goes wrong during equipment testing, we have a good laugh together,” says Castelletto. “It’s a lot less funny when you’re all alone in your house.” 

Planning and testing a complex experiment from start to finish has been an eye-opening journey for the team. “From our experiences in design courses like Praxis, we knew to expect things not to go as planned,” says Campbell. “We really learned to take a wide view of the project and lean on our project management skills.” 

Team members Piro and Richardson will take part in the flight next week. 

This article originally appeared in the U of T Engineering News.


Applying lessons from the racetrack in engineering classrooms: Meet Professor Sasha Gollish

photo of Professor Sasha Gollish

Professor Sasha Gollish (EngSci, ISTEP). (Photo provided)

 

Professor Sasha Gollish (CivE MEng 1T0, CivE PhD 1T9) has joined the Division of Engineering Science (EngSci) and the Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education and Practice (ISTEP) as an Assistant Professor in the teaching stream.  

Gollish brings a unique combination of experiences and skills to the task of teaching some of EngSci’s core engineering design courses. In addition to being a licensed professional engineer with experience in transportation and sustainability, and holding a PhD in engineering education, she is also an elite athlete who applies the lessons of competing on the international stage to the classroom. 

Writer Christina Heidorn spoke to Gollish about how her academic, professional and athletic careers to date all inform her approach to teaching. 

Can you tell us a little about your career path? 

My story is not your traditional one. When the Pan Am Games were coming to Toronto in 2015, I took a leap of faith. I left a job I absolutely loved in professional engineering to return to professional running after a decade of working in the public and private sectors, primarily in road safety and vulnerable user groups. I trusted my gut and the dedication I’d put into training to compete at the highest level again. 

I started my PhD as a side project when I returned to professional running; I continue to pursue professional running and engineering alongside my teaching. I was inspired by wrestler Erica Wiebe, who won the gold medal at the 2016 Olympics after having missed out on the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games. Wiebe described how her studies saved her when wrestling fell apart, how she demanded excellence in a variety of facets of life that helped her be a whole person, not just a wrestler, which in turn made her the greatest wrestler.  

Tell me about your PhD research? 

I completed my PhD studies in 2019 and my research focused on the connection of mathematics to engineering. I explored how coaching principles, similar to those used in high performance athletics, can be applied in engineering classrooms to spur motivation, perseverance and engagement. I also looked at which themes in mathematics — broadly speaking, statistics, or more specifically, ordinary and partial differential equations — are most important in the curriculum. It’s been really cool to watch the suggestions of my PhD come to life in U of T Engineering’s Core 8 curriculum.  

My current area of research is evolving. I’m interested in data and machine learning as it relates to sports performance. I’ve applied a host of engineering principles to my training and that definitely makes me a better athlete and competitor, and I’d like to share and grow my knowledge in this area. 

What will you be teaching? 

As part of EngSci’s Praxis III teaching team I will focus on engineering design and transdisciplinary competencies. My teaching philosophy centres around empathy and using it in all contexts of engineering and life in general. I’ll also continue to work with the Engineering Communication Program (ECP) and to liaise with the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering (MIE) and the Engineering Career Centre (ECC).  

What are you most looking forward to in your new position? 

Working with an incredible group of talented and hard-working people. From the Praxis III team to the students, I feel fortunate to work with some of the best of the best. 

Speaking to the Praxis I EngSci students about resilience in 2019, after I returned from not finishing the Marathon at the Doha World Championships, was one of the most memorable experiences of my career so far. I learned a lot about myself on the journey to put together that lecture. First, working on the technical details to understand the mathematical models for resilience in earthquake engineering. Next, working through the details of my failed marathon. And then combining the theory of resilience with the what I learned about myself in that marathon to find the positive lessons to carry forth in running, teaching and life in general. 

As a new professor, what’s one piece of advice you would give to new students? 

Be thoughtful with the time you dedicate to assessments. If something is worth 5% do not treat it the same as a 20% assignment. Too often I see undergraduate students fretting over 1 and 2% assignments. What’s that saying — “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” 

Finally, is there anything fun about yourself that you’d like to share? 

I’m a registered professional coach with the Coaching Association of Canada. Alongside my professional engineering and teaching career I continue to pursue middle and long distance running at the elite level. I won a bronze medal in the 1,500-metre race at the Pan Am Games in Toronto. Since then, I’ve represented Team Canada at world championships, including the 2016 Pan Am Cross-Country Championships in Venezuela and the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Qatar. In 2018 I was Canada’s national half-marathon champion and placed in the top 30 at the World Half Marathon Championships in Spain. It’s been an honour to don the maple leaf and compete with the best in the world. And because I believe in sharing big goals, my 2022 goal is to break the Masters world record in the women’s 40–45 1,500m, which stands at 3:59.73!

This article originally appeared in the U of T Engineering News.


Dedicated alumni volunteers honoured with Spirit of EngSci Alumni Award

Jonathan Chan and Azadeh Mostaghel

Professor Jonathan Chan and Azadeh Mostaghel are the 2021 recipients of the Spirit of EngSci Alumni Award.

 

Two EngSci alumni have received the 2021 Spirit of EngSci Alumni Award in recognition of their outstanding support for the Division’s mission and current students through significant volunteer service.

“On behalf of the Division, I would like to thank this year’s award recipients, Jonathan Chan and Azadeh Mostaghel, for their dedication to the EngSci community,” says EngSci Director, Professor Will Cluett. “Our program’s over 6,300 alumni span the globe and provide invaluable support through mentorship, in-class involvement and philanthropy that is critical to our mission. Our students benefit tremendously from the advice and expertise of those who have gone before them.”

Azadeh Mostaghel (EngSci 1T2, MASc IndE 1T5) has supported students through informal mentorship, her involvement in the Entrepreneurship Hatchery’s NEST program, and as a guest speaker and panelist. She also serves on EngSci’s Honours & Awards Committee, where she helps to identify and nominate outstanding alumni for the annual Engineering Alumni Network Awards, the Faculty’s highest honours for U of T Engineering graduates.

Mostaghel is an entrepreneur interested in the integration of engineering, science, business, and policy to meet our society’s rising healthcare demands. As the founder and CEO of ORCHID Analytics she is developing AI decision tools for more seamless and efficient healthcare operations. Mostaghel has over eight years of experience in healthcare, analyzing data and modeling to support decision-making, quality and process improvement initiatives.

Since 2014 Jonathan Chan (EngSci 8T4, MASc ChemE 8T6, PhD ChemE 9T5) has hosted over 35 EngSci students at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), Thailand, as part of the Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program (ESROP). He has worked diligently to create a welcoming and supportive community for the students who spend the summer doing research in labs at the university, including hosting past and incoming summer students at the annual EngSci Alumni Dinner in Toronto.

Chan is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and a co-founder of D-Lab at the School of Information Technology (SIT), KMUTT. He is the Director of the Innovative Cognitive Computing (IC2) Research Center at SIT, and an honorary Visiting Scientist at The Centre for Applied Genomics at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, Canada. He holds an NVIDIA Deep Learning Institute (DLI) University Ambassadorship and is a certified DLI instructor. His research interests include intelligent systems, biomedical informatics, and data science and machine learning in general.

Chan and Mostaghel shared their thoughts on mentorship and why they stay engaged with EngSci.


Why have you remained involved with EngSci and U of T Engineering as an alumna or alumnus?

Chan: I have always kept in touch with the University of Toronto and was a Visiting Professor there a number of occasions. My EngSci 8T4 classmate, Prof. Mark Kortschot, was the EngSci Chair for a period of time and both he and his son had visited me at KMUTT to initiate the ESROP connection. I enjoy working with EngScis and this is an excellent opportunity to interact and shape the new generation.

Mostaghel: Remaining involved in the EngSci community seemed like the natural progression to my involvement as a student. It has also given me the chance to see the new cohort of students, interact with them and watch as they blossom into amazing engineers who want to leave their mark on their community and society at large. I have also been privileged to be introduced to and discover the impact of the alumni who came before me and aid in their recognition in the U of T community.

Professor Chan tours the Ancient Siam museum park in Thailand in 2019 with several EngSci students during their placements at KMUTT as part of the Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program.

What role has mentorship or professional community played in your own life? What do you think alumni can contribute to current students?

Chan: Ever since I came to Thailand back in 1999, I’ve been involved mostly in the academic setting, started with linkages with industry, and have maintained close contact with both academic and industry sectors. KMUTT fosters close industry ties and we provide training for the industry as well. As such, mentorship has been a major role since I came to Thailand. I strongly believe that alumni can share valuable experience with current students, both the positive and negative aspects, as we need to learn from successes as well as failures.

Mostaghel: I think our interactions shape who we are and how we see the world around us. I have been fortunate to have a few remarkable mentors guiding me through technical and business terrains. Their experience and support have allowed me to recover more quickly from a setback, avoid pitfalls, and be able to foresee and pivot.

U of T alumni are a vast resource of knowledge for current students, whether that knowledge is industry specific or life advice, we can all learn something new from one another.

What advice would you share with the graduating class?

Chan: Keep an open mind and keep on learning and you will find what you enjoy doing. The only difference is responsibility will become increasingly more important as you progress in your career. Nonetheless, if you enjoy what you are doing, then you will be successful.

Mostaghel: Believe in yourself and your abilities and always, always, always bet on yourself!  Just because something hasn’t been done before, whether that’s at all or in a particular way, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And lastly, create the change you seek!

 


EngSci Grads to Watch 2021

By Liz Do and Tyler Irving


ADVOCATING SOCIAL CHANGE

Chinmayee (May) Gidwani (EngSci 2T0 + PEY)

Chinmayee GidwaniThroughout her studies at U of T Engineering, Gidwani’s guiding principle has been to help build a sense of belonging among students, whether welcoming new engineering students as part of the F!rosh Week team, or as the Engineering Society’s equity and inclusivity director.

“Being the EDI director was challenging, but I learned so much about different perspectives of the diverse student body, and how to approach reconciling them to come up with solutions that don’t leave anyone behind,” says Gidwani.

In her final year at U of T Engineering, Gidwani completed an undergraduate thesis on ethics in artificial intelligence (AI), where she developed a practical framework to approach ethical AI development. This work could be helpful in her future endeavors, as she returns to her PEY Co-op placement at AMD to work on operating systems.

If she could describe her engineering experience in one word, Gidwani says the word is “Rewarding.”

“Even though these past few years at U of T have been challenging, it has been incredibly rewarding to learn and grow from these experiences,” she explains. “All the late-night study sessions and last-minute group meetings have made me more confident in my abilities as a leader and engineer.”

“I’d like to give a shout-out to everyone involved with the Engineering Society! Thank you for volunteering your time to help manage our budget, organize events, advocate for students, and making the Skule™ community such a welcoming and lovely place.”

 

SOARING HIGHER

Zayne Thawer (EngSci 2T0 + PEY)

Zayne ThawerThawer is the first in his family to attend post-secondary education, and like many students, struggled with ‘impostor syndrome’ when he first arrived at U of T Engineering.

“I definitely felt like I did not belong at first,” he says. “But I slowly worked through that fear by increasing my participation in extracurricular activities and building relationships with my peers and professors.”

One program that Thawer found valuable was the NSight Mentorship Program, which pairs first- and second-year students in Engineering Science with upper year students for guidance and advice. Thawer eventually became the co-chair of the program, overseeing more than 200 mentees and 70 mentors per year, as well as hosting academic workshops and professional seminars.

He also focused on gaining research experience. After his second year, he began working with researchers at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, using a virtual reality driving simulator to study the effects of cannabis use on driving performance and safety. After his third year, as well as for his undergraduate thesis, he analyzed unsteady aerodynamic effects over transonic aircraft wings with Professor David Zingg (UTIAS).

For his PEY Co-op internship, Thawer worked at Safran Landing Systems, collaborating with engineers in France, England, and the United States on the design of the upcoming Aerion Supersonic AS2 business jet. Next fall, Thawer is headed to the California Institute of Technology to pursue a PhD in aerospace engineering.

“Over the past five years, I have learned so much from some of the best professors in Canada and incredible group of peers in the Engineering Science program,” he says. “The knowledge and skills I have developed have given me the confidence to pursue my dreams and make a difference in the world.”

“I would love to thank the entire Engineering Science family, including my incredible peers, insightful professors, and supportive faculty, for allowing me to become a member of such a welcoming community! I would also like to say how grateful I am to my supervisors, Professors David Zingg (UTIAS), Bruce Haycock and Jennifer Campos, for preparing me for the next phase of my academic journey. Thanks to all my friends and family — I can’t wait to see what’s next!”


Read the full list of Engineering’s Grads to Watch posted on Engineering News


U of T startup Kepler Communications raises US$60-million for aerospace venture

rocket taking off

A rocket bearing one of Kepler Communications’ satellites launching in 2018. (Courtesy: Kepler Communications)

 

Kepler Communications, a startup founded by EngSci and UTIAS alumni that provides space-based telecom services, has raised US$60-million for its growing fleet of miniature satellites, according to the Globe & Mail.

The company recently became became Canada’s largest satellite operator with 15 satellites in orbit.

Kepler’s founders Wen Cheng Chong (EngSci 1T3), Mark Michael (EngSci 1T2, MASc MIE 1T4, PhD 1T6), Mina Mitry (EngSci 1T2, AeroE MASc 1T4), and UTIAS graduate Jeffrey Osborne (AeroE PhD 1T6) first met as students.  All four were part the U of T Aerospace Team (UTAT), a student-led design team with focuses on rocketry and satellites.  Their startup was supported by U of T Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hatchery and Start@UTIAS, and aims to build a global satellite network.

Read the full story in the Globe & Mail.


AutoDrive Challenge™: U of T Engineering places first for the fourth straight year

Zeus, a self-driving electric car created by a team of students from U of T Engineering, parked outside the MarsDome at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. The team has placed first in the intercollegiate Autodrive Challenge the last four years in a row. (Photo: Chude Qian)

 

By Tyler Irving

Last night, the aUToronto team — U of T Engineering’s entry into the AutoDrive Challenge™ — placed first in a virtual competition to demonstrate the capabilities of their self-driving electric vehicle, dubbed Zeus. It marks the fourth year in a row that the team has come out on top.

The aUToronto team consists of more than 70 members, most of whom are U of T Engineering undergraduate or graduate students. Its faculty supervisors include Professors Tim BarfootAngela Schoellig and Steven Waslander (all UTIAS).

Keenan Burnett (EngSci 1T6+PEY, UTIAS PhD candidate), a former captain of the team, has continued to act as a key advisor in the latest competition.

“We’re elated to see this continued validation of our team’s efforts,” says Burnett. “We try our best to stay competitive and not let our past wins make us complacent. We use ourselves as our benchmark for success, continually trying to outdo ourselves and improve on our previous iterations.”

“Despite all the challenges of keeping the team going throughout COVID, our students have had a great year of learning about self-driving technology, working in a team, and pushing their limits,” says Barfoot. “I couldn’t be more proud of our aUToronto team once again for another great year in the Autodrive competition.”

“A tremendous amount of effort went into succeeding this year,” says Schoellig. “We had to accomplish new and more advanced autonomous driving tasks, complete more sophisticated simulation challenges, and prove the safety of our car. This win reflects our team’s continued technical, collaboration and communication strength. I am extremely proud to work together with such a capable team.”

Zeus is a Chevrolet Bolt that has been retrofitted with a suite of sensors, including visual cameras, radar and lidar. Additional hardware and student-designed software inside the car processes these signals and converts them into commands that enable the car to drive itself safely and efficiently.

The AutoDrive Challenge™ launched in 2017 with eight universities from across Canada and the U.S. In addition to U of T Engineering, competitors included Kettering University, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech University, North Carolina A & T State University, Texas A & M University, University of Waterloo and Virginia Tech.

Zeus has taken the top spot in each of the competition’s yearly meets: the 2018 meet in Yuma, Ariz., the 2019 meet in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a virtual competition held in the fall of 2020. Originally scheduled to be a three-year competition, the challenge was rolled over for a fourth year, and it is this competition that the team has now won as well.

“Both the Year 3 and Year 4 competitions challenged the teams to perform autonomous ride-sharing under controlled environments,” says Jingxing “Joe” Qian (EngSci 1T8 + PEY, UTIAS MASc candidate), the current Team Lead for aUToronto.


Watch the team’s safety video to see Zeus in action.

“The vehicles are tasked with navigating multiple destinations while handling various traffic scenarios. One particular interesting requirement this year is that we need to reach SAE J3016 Level standard for the loss-of-GPS scenario: the vehicle must perform fallback strategies to either continue the task or pull to the road shoulder when GPS signal is lost.”

While the teams based in the U.S. were able to meet in person in Ann Arbor, the Canadian teams competed by means of reports, presentations, simulations and video demos. Qian says that the team is used to this format, as much of the work on the car has been done virtually for the past year.

“We managed to get a small task force to perform real world tests one or two days per week,” says Qian. “After testing, they would share demo videos and results to the team. We also developed an automatic evaluation system that leverages various simulation environments. It runs daily on our deployment server against a set of test scenarios, and it has greatly improved our development efficiency.”


Watch the full demonstration video that earned the aUToronto team first place in the Year 4 competition of the AutoDrive Challenge™.

As for the next steps, aUToronto has already been selected to compete in the SAE AutoDrive Challenge™ II, scheduled to begin in the fall of 2021. They will have a new car and new competition, and they are actively recruiting new team members as well.

“We will be getting a brand new GM Chevy Bolt EUV 2022 to build up our autonomy system from the ground up,” says Frank (Chude) Qian (UTIAS MASc candidate), who will lead the team for the AutoDrive Challenge™ II.

“We hope to develop our vehicle with real-world driving scenarios, apply industry safety standards, and bring awareness and assurance to the general public about autonomous vehicles. We are excited to compete with the new universities and hopefully continuing our winning streak!”

This article originally appeared in the U of T Engineering News.


EngSci alumnus helps launch tool for breast cancer surgery

MOLLI Surgical's Ananth Ravi (left) and Fazila Seker (right)

MOLLI Surgical was launched in 2018 by alumnus Ananth Ravi (EngSci 0T4, left), an associate professor in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, and U of T alumna Fazila Seker (right), who serves as president and CEO of the company (photos courtesy of MOLLI)

 

University of Toronto researcher Ananth Ravi (EngSci 0T4) and U of T alumna Fazila Seker founded MOLLI, a company that has developed magnet-based technology that helps surgeons locate breast tumours more efficiently, causing less pain for patients.  Their streamlined process could help reduce surgery backlogs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full story of their innovative technology in the U of T News.


© 2020 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering