From January 26-28, OSPE attended the 39th annual Ontario Engineering Competition (OEC 2018). Hosted by the University of Ottawa, the theme of this year’s event was “Automation.” Students from each of Ontario’s 16 accredited engineering schools participated in eight competition categories that put their engineering and teamwork skills to the test.
Every competitive event – including a new category called ‘Re-Engineering’ – encourages students to take into consideration the environmental, economic, technological and societal impacts of their proposed solutions.
The first and second place winners from each category at OEC 2018 will represent Ontario at the Canadian Engineering Competition (CEC), hosted by Ryerson University in early March.
OSPE is the official sponsor of the annual OEC Communication competition. Students competing in this category deliver prepared presentations that explain how engineering can solve a societal challenge of their choice. Participants must break down technical concepts in a manner easily understood by an audience of varying technical backgrounds.
Each team exhibited a strong understanding of the many ways in which engineers can harness their technical knowledge and problem-solving skills to influence public policy.
What did the top three teams discuss at OEC 2018?
First place – Green Dialysis
According to the National Kidney Foundation, dialysis saves over two million patients around the world every year. Ryerson engineering students Ayesha Khader and Ashar Azmat discussed the engineering behind the two different types of dialysis used to help patients cope with chronic kidney failure. The pair examined the adverse environmental, economic and social impacts of this lifesaving procedure. In 2017, it cost $2.5 billion to treat the 0.06% of Canadians requiring dialysis. From an environmental standpoint, hemodialysis requires as much as 500 litres of water per session and produces an enormous amount of waste – 38% of which represents non-recyclable plastics.
Despite these challenges, Khader and Azmat are optimistic that engineers can continue to develop and refine a more environmentally friendly process called Green Dialysis. The Ryerson team presented a strong case about the ways in which engineers can help ensure this procedure becomes more efficient and affordable for the healthcare profession.
Second place – Automation and Artificial Intelligence
Ryerson engineering students Taha Qureshi and Hamza Sajid critically examined the potential positive and negative impacts of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) on employment rates, safety standards, the global economy, the environment and public policy development. Qureshi and Sajid stressed that engineers – the drivers of technology – must play a critical role in ensuring that these advancements address the problems they were designed to solve, without jeopardizing quality of life.
There are concerns that AI and the rise of automation could hinder economic growth, increase unemployment rates, widen the global wealth gap and create a more fossil-fuel dependent economy. The pair consequently presented their ideas about the ways engineers can guide the development of evidence-based solutions – from Universal Basic Income (UBI) to government-imposed “robot” taxes – to address the potential pitfalls of AI.
Third place – Mosquitoes
Mosquitoes have been deemed the deadliest creatures to humans. Particular species of mosquitoes – such as the Aedes Aegypti – are carriers of life-threatening diseases, including malaria, dengue and yellow fever. Sarika Goel, an engineering student from the University of Toronto, discussed the pros and cons of several solutions that have been engineered to reduce the threat mosquitoes to the human population.
While some scientists believe mass eradication of the entire species is the optimal solution for modern ecosystems, others argue that deliberate extinction would have grave consequences on pollination and the food chain. Goel explained several of the innovative, cost-effective and environmentally sound methods that engineers are developing to target only those species of mosquitoes that carry dangerous parasites and disease. Goel was also the recipient of the OEC Social Awareness Award for her compelling presentation.
OSPE would like to congratulate all 300+ students who participated in the 2018 Ontario Engineering Competition. Congratulations also go out to the 2018 OEC organizing committee and the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Engineering for hosting a successful event that challenged students and judges to think outside of the box.