Engineering for a better world

12 June 2017 | EducationResearch
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From left: Mr Teo, Jun Han, Jun Ren, Chong Swee and Assoc Prof Danner with the quadcopter

NUS Engineering students in the Innovation & Design Centric Programme (iDCP) showcased a range of projects that plug existing gaps in the real world, including a solar-powered quadcopter and a neural relinking system for stroke patients.

NUS Electrical & Computer Engineering Associate Professor Aaron Danner and NUS Engineering Teaching Assistant Mr Brian Teo Shohei, supervised the four-man team who developed the solar-powered quadcopter. The Year 2 students were Jiang Yisong from NUS Computer Engineering; and from NUS Mechanical Engineering, Manoharan Karthik; Tan Qi Zhi; and Teo Kian Chong.

Measuring 1.5m by 1.5m and weighing 2kg, the fully solar-powered system is the first of its kind as most existing quadcopters rely on batteries to boost flying performance. NUS’ solar-powered quadcopter — which does not use any batteries — stands out for its very lightweight frame. “This machine can fly as long as the sun is up, and can fly for very long periods because it relies on the sun and not the stored power in the batteries,” said Mr Teo. The machine can even operate with artificial light although significant power would be required, he added.

During project development, the team paid great attention to material selection, design customisation, precision manufacturing, solar cell selection and the testing of the motor and propellers. Materials which the group experimented with included lightweight and relatively accessible materials such as acrylic, carbon fibre, Styrofoam and wood.

The team will be working on a series of enhancements including improving the solar cells, upgrading the thrust-to-power ratio of the propeller, and further lightening the aircraft by at least 10 per cent.

Stroke is a leading cause of death in Singapore, contributing to 6.8 per cent of total deaths in 2015. The project on neural relinking — where the brain is tricked into thinking that the affected limb is heathy, encouraging the development of new neural paths between the brain and the paralysed limb and stimulating muscle movement — began in 2015. Most current techniques for neural relinking use mirrors in rehabilitation, but the visibility of the large physical mirror diminishes the effectiveness of “tricking” the brain.


Mr Soh (left) with a few of the students from the neural relinking system project


Supervised by Mr Soh Eng Keng, an NUS Engineering Instructor, the project group consisted of Year 4 NUS Electrical Engineering students Edward Harsono, Henry Irawan and Win Phyo @ Maung Win Phyo; as well as Year 4 Mechanical Engineering student Ho Zhexuan.


The team decided to leverage virtual reality to overcome the limitation of mirror therapy and build a better system for rehabilitating the lower limbs and helping stroke patients to regain the ability to walk.


“Virtual reality creates an immersive environment for the patient’s therapy and also opens up many different levels of therapy for the patient,” said Mr Soh. Including virtual reality, through the creation of an avatar for the patient, enhances the realism of the treatment process. The device can be used not only in hospitals but at home without the need for external assistance.


The project group has received seed funding from ST Electronics for further development. There are plans to expand the functionality to include motion of the ankle and hip, added Mr Soh.

Virtual reality creates an immersive environment for the patient’s therapy and also opens up many different levels of therapy for the patient.

The iDCP project showcase featured some 19 projects developed along themes such as Aerospace and Autonomous Systems, Engineering in Medicine, Future Transportation Systems, Innovative Systems, as well as Smart and Sustainable Cities.