|April 21, 2000||Volume 7, Number 15|
Engineering students patent curling-rock sensor
By Rachel Simonson
University of Saskatchewan Technologies Inc., the universitys technology transfer arm, has filed for a patent and is seeking to commercialize a unique curling rock sensor designed by a group of engineering students and their professor.
A U.S. provisional patent was filed March 10 for the sensor, which will assist curling judges in detecting hog-line violations by triggering a buzzer and a light signal when the rock has cleared the line. Rather than having to watch the hog line and the curler's hand, judges will be able to fully concentrate on the hand.
The "curling rock proximity detector" was developed for the group's fourth-year design project class in electrical engineering under the supervision of their professor, Eric Salt.
"There is certainly a market for this product in the world of curling," says Salt who suggested the idea for the project.
"There seems to be a strong demand for the sensor right now. National curling judges have said this sensor would greatly improve detection of hog-line violations. They acknowledge that judging mistakes are made because of the tediousness of the job."
Salt said the ingenuity of the design and its low cost make it very attractive to the market. "Theres nothing out there that does this," he said, noting that curling commentator Ray Turnbull of TSN was so taken with the sensor that he mentioned it on TSN broadcasts.
Salt said Neil Houston, director of competitions for the Canadian Curling Association, would like the sensor to be in use for the 2001 Brier. Houston helped the students define how accurate the sensor needed to be.
The students Kevin Ackerman, Johanna Dmytryshyn, Jason Smith and Jarret Adam won the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) student papers competition at U of S and have entered the Western Canada IEEE competition, a competition among student engineers from Western Canadian universities.
The device is based on a magnetic sensor placed under the ice along the hog line. The sensor detects the presence of a magnetic field from a magnet placed in the bottom cup of the rock. The under-ice sensor sends a voltage to the off-ice processing electronics. The signal is picked up by a sound effects generator that sets off the warning buzzer and light.
Judging in major competitions is currently done using the "call and confirm" method whereby one judge indicates a violation has occurred and another judge confirms it. Judges sit on opposite sides of the ice sheet directly over the hog line but their view can sometimes be obstructed by curlers.
The students would like to develop a fully automated sensor system incorporating a handle sensor. This would enable judges to detect electronically whether the curlers hand is still on the rock when the rock crosses the hog line. Curling rules require that when a rock is delivered, the handle must be released from the curler's hand before it completely crosses the hog line.
The students are excited about the possibilities for the new invention.
"Its encouraging to see the commercialization of a project," says Jarret Adam.
"People perceive engineering to be a complex science that is difficult to understand. But this project demonstrates that engineering can be used for down-to-earth, simple purposes."
A small amount of funding for the project was received from the college and materials were donated by various sponsors.
UST is currently seeking a company to manufacture and market the new sensor.
"Its exciting to see a group of students tackling a very practical problem with a unique application," said Branko Peterman, president of UST Inc.
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Research shows exercising the brain works
When most of us think about starting a fitness program, we dont usually target the brain for a workout.
But exercising the brain is exactly what we should be doing to keep our brains healthy, says University of Saskatchewan neuropsychologist Margaret Crossley and her research team, which includes doctoral students.
"Just as we have to challenge our physical bodies to maintain strength and flexibility, we have to carry out mental work and challenge our brains if we want them to function at their best," says Crossley, who directs the Aging Research and Memory Clinic on campus.
Research has shown that a third of people over age 85 will suffer some form of dementia. But Crossleys focus is optimizing the brain power of people who age normally.
Crossleys research on normal aging began in the mid-1980s with her SSHRC-funded doctoral work, and continued in the early 90s with support from the Saskatchewan Health Research Board (now the Health Services Utilization and Research Commission). Her studies over 12 years have included more than 300 participants.
She tested a model of aging that proposes that our brain gradually loses its store of information processing resources as we age. These resources are similar to a batterys energy store and are required, in varying degrees, to carry out the brains work.
By asking her subjects to perform two tasks at the same time, Crossley studied how much one task interferes with the other in individuals of different ages, and in the same individuals over time.
Her results support previous studies showing that normal aging is accompanied by changes in higher brain functions that require a lot of "brain work," such as learning challenging or new material, or quickly interpreting a rapidly changing or complex visual scene.
A decrease in the speed of processing information is one of the most predictable findings in normal aging studies. Its measurable by the late 20s and early 30s.
Despite these changes, Crossleys research does not forecast a dire future for an increasingly aging population.
Noting that normal aging does not affect all brain functions, Crossley points to activities that involve practiced skills or familiar material, like language and recognition memory, that hold up very well over time.
"The ability to read, or to hear and understand our language is so well-developed and highly automatized that theres no reason at all to expect their change in normal aging," she says.
Similarly, when individuals are allowed to process information at their own pace, without a speed component, they do very well.
Crossley explains that people who age normally also naturally compensate for minor changes in brain function by using supports and aids such as visual cues to allow them to function well.
Most importantly, while genetics and lifestyle choices contribute to how well an individual ages, people can also take action toward improving their brain health by engaging in stimulating mental activity.
Though biological changes such as a loss in the number of neurons and decreasing levels of brain neurotransmitters are an inevitable part of aging, Crossley says the remaining cells continue to form new connections as people learn and experience new things.
"In the healthy brain, the vast majority of our cells continue to live throughout our life-spans, and they adjust and change as our environment does," she stresses.
The problem is its much easier to continue to do whats familiar, instead of learning new skills from scratch and challenging our brains to grow.
But according to Crossley, this is no time for complacency.
"Our brain is a work in progress," she explains. "We can take the path of least resistance, but I dont think we can expect our brains to be as healthy as they could be."
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