Algonquin's Applied Research Day a 'win-win' for students, industry

For Algonquin College students, applied research means solving real-world problems for actual businesses.

By Jacob Serebrin

That research – and its diversity – was on display at the school’s Applied Research Day on Aug. 19.

“We had a variety in health; medical technology; wastewater treatment and biotech; some exciting robotics ones; we had a virtual reality one, to develop tools to create shapes in a 3D environment; work with Hydro Ottawa, to develop a training jacket for power line technicians to monitor their performance,” says Alexander Yang, the project manager at Algonquin’s Construction Research Centre.

“Ultimately, it comes down to who approaches us for whatever needs and whether we can match them with our resources and skills at the college.”

Mr. Yang and his colleagues work with businesses to identify organizations to collaborate with students.

“By and large, they’re companies with a real problem, a process they want to improve, a new product or service they’re trying to develop, and then we use our students, under the guidance of our faculty, to help create a prototype or some way to address that problem,” Mr. Yang says.

It’s a different approach to research than the one taken by some other educational institutions, one motivated by practicality. But it can be a challenge, says Mr. Yang, whose focus is on construction.

He says that sometimes members of the construction industry can be a little hesitant to get involved in research projects because they’re picturing scientists in lab coats, rather than, for instance, a new technique to install windows.

For students, the projects can help make them more employable.

“The projects aren’t really … to learn new specific knowledge about their trade – they should know that coming to the table,” Mr. Yang says.

“We emphasize developing soft skills, understanding the expectations of a professional environment and since we do serve a lot of small startup-size companies, often there’s opportunities to continue on with the companies or, if they do a particularly good job, to get recognition.”

Applied Research Day happens three times a year. Mr. Yang says Algonquin also has other projects in development that will help bring students together with industry.

“It’s a very win-win way that we can help industry and help train new recruits, if you will, for the workforce,” he says.

At the end of the event, a panel of judges awarded prizes to the top three projects.

The top award went to Masterpiece VR, a virtual reality system that can be used to create 3D art, including sculptures and paintings. The project was led by School of Media and Design professor Christopher Elliot and was created with partner Brinx Software.

Another project led by Mr. Elliot, the SmartMoms Canada app, took second place. The app, which was developed with the University of Ottawa, helps pregnant women adhere to weight-gain guidelines by collecting data from the women’s FitBits, electronic weight scales and other sources and provides personalized feedback. It also offers personalized physical activity and nutritional goals, continuing to help once the baby is born.

Third place went to a robotic lawnmower called GreenCare. Mechanical engineering professor Hooman Abdi developed the device along with students Pietro Pucci, Mustafa Al Rubai, Bradley Domjan, Zachary Ouellet and Victor Silva Lago.