Sept. 12, 2018

Schulich students creating the future of technology

Software engineering student Nicholas Langley is seeing coding from a whole new perspective thanks to work experience as a quality assurance intern.
Software engineering student Nicholas Langley

Students at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering aren’t waiting for graduation to make their mark in the digital world. Internships, student competitions and unbridled curiosity are driving students from the undergraduate through doctoral levels to build, innovate and investigate new technologies that will change the way we live.

From both sides of the code

When Nicholas Langley first arrived at Schulich, he didn’t have much of a plan. He figured he’d aim for a mechanical or electrical specialty. Coding software never crossed his mind, until he took the mandatory first year class on the subject and realized he had a keen interest and a decent amount of skill. Now, entering his fourth year of Software Engineering, Langley is putting his developing skills to use in the corporate world as a quality assurance intern for a Calgary-based medical imaging software firm.

“I search and play around with the software and stress test it to see if anything happens that shouldn’t,” he says. “If I identify anything that’s going wrong, I write a report—maybe record a video or some images if that helps—and it gets assigned to a developer who tries to fix it. Working in quality assurance gives me a totally different view of the whole process. Now, when I go back to coding, I can think about how my projects might be tested. It rounds out my view of a software project.”

While it was the software that originally piqued his interest, Langley is now drawn to the fact that his work is helping doctors better diagnose patients. He says the company will often respond to requests from research sites or hospitals to add new features to the program. It’s satisfying, he adds, to be a part of a team that is always innovating and pushing the field forward.

Walk this way

It’s not often we think of someone’s walk as a unique part of their personality. For most of us, stride doesn’t noticeably deviate much from one person to the other. But technology being developed in Schulich’s biometrics lab is hoping to take advantage of even the slightest variations in order to see whether any abnormalities exist.

“We have a camera in a hallway and the person walks in front of it,” says Noor Abid, one of two masters students currently working on the gait analysis project. “It will record all the data and analyze it in real time. We can use this data to find out if a person has a limp. Right now we are trying to determine which joints are useful in analyzing gait. First, we analyzed the lower joints of the body but now we are moving into the upper parts like the shoulders.”

Abid says there are several studies currently underway that are looking at the use of biometric traits for security purposes, adding that gait analysis technology could someday play a role in border security. Abid says there may also be a medical use, as researchers are trying to determine how different diseases affect the way a patient walks.

Leading the charge

Engineers are problem solvers at heart, constantly asking questions about how to improve what we already know or create what we haven’t yet envisioned. Those are exactly the sentiments that led to the creation of Aaron Chau’s research group: Autonomous Electric Motorsport. The third year Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering student is working with 25 undergraduate and graduate students to build a self-driving, electric race car. Chau says, while the project is largely exploratory, he’s hoping the technology could one day prove useful on a larger scale.

“A high-speed autonomous vehicle that can navigate through obstacles could have a high impact on safety considerations for regular self-driving cars,” he says. “And with computer control, there are more opportunities to improve performance. Giving control to a computer brain instead of relying on a human brain opens the possibility of options like adjustable wheel suspension and independent speed control for each wheel.”

Chau credits Schulich’s lab technicians and research environment for facilitating a hands-on approach that allows students to explore their ideas from the ground up. He says the group’s ideas are still largely in the conceptual stage with plans to eventually build a full-scale model of an autonomous-racing vehicle.