All six teams that earned $10,000 each at engineering's pitch contest developed creative solutions to challenges ranging from making rock climbing safer to providing spinal cord injury patients with increased mobility.

The winning teams of senior-year engineering students were narrowed down from 10 who took three minutes each to explain their projects to a panel of judges in the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design contest held remotely on April 8.

Launched in 2014 and funded by The Esch Foundation, the competition supports creative, entrepreneurial students in the pursuit of research and development, and its commercialization for the benefit of Canada.

For the past eight months, students have been mainly working on their Capstone Design projects remotely rather than together on campus due to the pandemic.  

One of those projects, a device to allow people with spinal cord injuries (SCI) to be more mobile, earned $10,000 in the pitch competition along with $3,000 as the winner of the Sedra People’s Choice Award.

Members of Bless Your Sole – mechanical engineering students Anna Xiang, Debrish Sarma, Milos Zivkovic, Taha Malik,Trevor Zhu and Vatsalya Saini – developed the Lock Step,  an ankle exoskeleton powered by an onboard linear actuator system allowing for freedom of mobility.

Bless Your Sole

“From our testing we’ve concluded there’s a 46.5 per cent overall ankle torque reduction and an 11 per cent less peak muscle engagement during push-off phase resulting in reduced risk for injury,” said Malik.

Team members noted that the cost of their device is estimated to be $2,600, 20 times less expensive than their closest competitor.

“Our product aims to be more of a consumer-oriented exoskeleton whereas the current exoskeletons in this market are more research-oriented so they are more one-off designs,” said Malik. “We aim to take our technology and put it in the hands of as many people as we can.”  

The other winning teams are:

Canadian Ibex (Daniel Bell, Christopher Friedel, Peter Morrow and Justin Swinoga—mechanical engineering)

Canadian Ibex

The four rock-climbing enthusiasts developed a reusable fall-breaking anchoring device designed to absorb energy from a fall using a frictional brake. 

“During testing, the device resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in peak force on the climbing gear, which is in line with the single-use competition,” said Friedel. “At large falls this could make the difference between spinal cord issues and simply walking it off.”

EyeMove Technologies  (Oswaldo Ferro, Saeejith Nair, Arjun Narayan and Ali Toyserkani – mechatronics engineering)  

EyeMove Technologies      

With feedback from spinal cord injury experts, institutes and others, team members have been able to optimize the design of their eye-tracking technology created to allow individuals with quadriplegia to control wheelchair movement.

“If a person looks at a point the wheelchair autonomously moves in that direction,” said Toyserkani “That makes our device non-obtrusive and touchless and allows intuitive control of the wheelchair.”

UWTensil  (Gavin Lee,  Nishita Saha, Minh Trinh, and Andy Yang – chemical engineering)


With single-use plastics set to be banned by the end of the year, the team created a solution to disposable cutlery without “having to fork over a ton of extra money.”

“By the end of 2021, restaurants will have to use biodegradable cutlery and they’ll be looking for the cheapest option,” said Saha. “To capture a portion of this growing market, we have created a cheap and environmentally-friendly option – cutlery made of PLA (polylactic acid) and sawdust.”

Sterilus  (Pei Liang Guo, Joe Mattekatt and Udeshaya Wadhwa - mechatronics engineering)

Team Sterilus

The problem: With 88 per cent of people believing before the pandemic that public touch surfaces are unhygienic many more are now concerned about the possibility of COVID-19 spreading through unclean surfaces.

The solution: To reduce the time and cost involved in cleaning, the team created Sterilus, a self-cleaning stylus for customers to use at self-service counters.

“Our vision with this device is to provide users with a tool to hygienically interact with self-service counters using a stylus. The user simply releases the stylus when they’re finished and it’s sterilized using strong UV radiation,” said Mattekatt.

Yada (Aravind Segu, Carl Shen, Shehan Suresh and Akshay Pall - software engineering)

Team Yada

Yada, the acronym for Yet Another Docs App, is smart document software that team members say ensures the user will never have to rewrite anything ever again.

“All content lives in a main document and then with the intuitive interface you can easily construct flashcards, text documents and even presentations,” said Segu. “Any updates to your original document are automatically reflected in all your related documents at the same time and this ensures that everything is kept up to date.”

Special guest Alexis Ohanian, co-founder and executive chairman of the social news website Reddit, gave students a pep talk in what he called a “hypeAlexis Ohanian video.”

Alexis Ohanian spoke to students at this year's remote Esch pitch competition.

He described Waterloo Engineering as a special place with lots of talent.

“You are all clearly skilled technical minds  that’s how you got there and I’m sure you’re going to be fine,” he said.

Watch all of this year's pitches for the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards:

And check out all of the 2021 Capstone Design projects by senior-year engineering students:

Biomedical Engineering

Chemical Engineering

Civil, Environmental & Geological Engineering

Electrical & Computer Engineering

Interdisciplinary Engineering

Management Engineering

Mechanical Engineering

Mechatronics Engineering

Nanotechnology Engineering

Systems Design Engineering