A robot designed to safely defuse landmines without an explosion was one of six major winners at the 2016 Norman Esch Capstone Design Awards competition for University of Waterloo engineering students.

Landmine Boys’ five founders are mechanical engineering students who will graduate this spring. Their impressive pitch won them $10,000 to help cover startup and other costs.

“Our robot will eliminate risk to human operators by allowing them to run it from a safe distance,” said Richard Yim, a mechanical engineering student and CEO of Landmine Boys, who got initial support for his startup in GreenHouse a social incubator on campus. “We will also defuse landmines without exploding them to prevent any damage to local infrastructure and farmland.”

Landmine Boys

There are currently about 100 million landmines in 70 countries. While there has been progress within the detection phase of clearing landmines, there has been little change to methods of defusing them.

Landmine Boys’ current prototype was successfully tested on a landmine without TNT in Cambodia. Before the end of the year, the team plans to build a second prototype that will be tested on an active landmine with TNT.

The five other $10,000 winners include:

  • Amilent: strong, food-safe antimicrobial plastic for use in 3D printers
  • Cuttlefish: a robot that’s designed like a cuttlefish with the potential to survey underwater environments beyond the reach of other vehicles
  • GraFET: a sensor that uses a graphene-based transistor to quickly detect toxic gases. Designed to be incorporated into smartphones or wearable electronics
  • Nurhachi: a virtual energy market place that would allow buildings to trade energy between each other instead of purchasing it from a traditional utility
  • Project Reservoir: agricultural water control and environmental monitoring system consisting of low-cost field sensors which collect real-time soil and environmental conditions

Sedra's People’s Choice winner of $3,000:

  • Sportacus: wearable technology that displays speed and acceleration in real time to help athletes train and compete at their highest levels

During the event, 15 teams had 90 seconds to pitch their businesses to a panel of judges that included Waterloo Engineering alumni Lyon Wong, co-founder of Spectrum 28, and Rosco Hill, co-founder and CEO of Perpetua Labs, as well as Waterloo Engineering faculty members. The emcee for the event was Kevin Wright, a Waterloo systems design engineering graduate and the vice-president and co-founder of Alert Labs.

Judges selected the finalists for the competition from 40 applicants who all participated in March’s annual Capstone Design symposia. The five-day event showcased more than 150 projects senior engineering students spent months designing and building.

“The projects pitched today and throughout the Faculty’s Capstone Design symposia help inspire and support innovation,” said Wayne Parker, acting dean of engineering. “I was particularly impressed by the way teams focused on how their projects would benefit the end user as well as society.”

Funded by The Esch Foundation, the Norman Esch Capstone Design Awards support creative and entrepreneurial students in the pursuit of research and development and its commercialization for the benefit of Canada. Previous Capstone projects that have given rise to inventive ideas leading to the creation of companies include Voltera, whose custom circuit board printer won top prize in the 2015 International James Dyson Award competition.