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NTU EEE students took part in National Engineers Day 2018 competition

L-R: Chua Zhi Hong, Na Shi Chen, Luar Shui Song

Some NTU EEE students recently participated at the National Engineers Day event on 27 July 2018 at Suntec Singapore in the competition segment. The team (named VAWTER) consisted of NTU EEE students Na Shi Chen, Luar Shui Song (both Year 3 students) and Chua Zhi Hong (NTU MAE). We find out more from Shi Chen about his team’s experiences.

Give us some background about your team members and the project that your team was involved in.
My team and I were analysing how we could transform Singapore roads to be “smarter” and better in alignment with Singapore’s efforts to become a smart nation. Thus, we realised that over the past few years, things around us have been improving except the roads.

We started to brainstorm for ideas to harness energy from the roads. When we researched, there were concepts such as installing piezoelectric material underneath the road or even replacing the road with solar panels, and so on. Amongst all these, what interested me was whether we could make use of the human traffic and natural phenomenon (wind) to harness energy.

That’s when we saw the potential in harnessing wind energy and as we explored into it, we realised there was a lot of potential in this area as we not only could implement on the roads but also on the airplane tracks, sea and so on. To kick start the idea, we brainstormed about harnessing human traffic and wind energy surrounding us. We knew that Singapore consistently has a low amount of wind energy but whereas for traffic, it’s different. I truly believe in future that when the world gets “smarter”, there will be fewer jams and traffic will be less congested.

So how did we harness the road? We made use of the moving vehicle wake and the surrounding wind to harness energy. So in short, we are converting wind energy into electrical energy. Vehicle wake is the convergence of wind path as vehicle move in a straight line to cut the wind path. You can imagine that if you have a fan blowing in an enclosed environment and you have a triangle-like object that split it into two narrow paths, the wind velocity will increase as the wind paths start to converge. To complement our idea, we made use of natural wind as a secondary source of fuel to power the system so we used a bit of trick such that during a hot day, when there’s a temperature gradient difference, there will be a huge wind blowing.

What was the experience like for your team in participating in the competition?
We were extremely nervous when we decided to participate in this competition because we knew we were competing with overseas prestigious universities such as Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, University of Glasgow and so on. Though we did not advance to the final round (we finished in the semi-final round), the experience overall was extremely worth it and meaningful! Through the event, I’ve met a lot of innovative and inspiring people from all around the world.

When we participated in this competition, it was neither because of the prize reward nor the recognition but rather we wanted to further improve and enhance our prototype to bring it to the industrial level for commercialisation.

How did your NTU EEE learning experience help you for this competition?
NTU EEE has provided adequate and meaningful learning experiences that helped us to overcome challenges for this competition. Modules such as Introduction to EEE Design and Project pushed our technical skills to our limits. An example was whenever after we fixed the circuits, if they did not work, we had to troubleshoot by analysing what the issues were and come up with hypotheses to resolve them. Of course, we did face a lot of issues and challenges while building our prototype. Especially the electrical harvesting portion as well as the structure design of it. We had to do different tests for the structure design to see which material type, shape or size were the most compatible with our prototype design.

Did any professors mentor you and how did they help?
The project was initiated by my team members and I so there wasn’t any professor guiding us along the way per se but I would like to express my gratitude to NTU EEE Prof Ng Boon Poh and the lab staff Mdm Wong for providing us the necessary workspace and environment. With their assistance, we were able to make full use of the lab environment to complete our prototype. They were also extremely helpful whenever we encountered difficulties. During our prototype building progress, we had difficulty working out the mechanism for the actuator to generate energy so Mdm Wong gave us a suggestion to create an energy core and use a power drill to simulate the spinning effect to generate electricity out of the whole system.

How did the collaboration with other NTU school students come about?
I always believe that if you want to do something great, you will need to work in a team with different specialities and backgrounds. So Shui Song and I went to ask around our friends from different school to seek for their advice and commitment to the competition. Trust me, we should do this more often because it a unique experience having people from other specialisations giving you valuable feedback on your design. That’s why I feel that collaboration is extremely important.

What benefits do you think you and your team members got from this event?
As an individual, we made friends from around the world and the event also served as a platform for us to establish connections with other associates and industry players. I hope in future, I will still have such opportunities to do projects and establish connections with people from other countries to create a better world.

As a team, overall we enjoyed the experience provided by the competition but I think we treasured our team more when we spent countless hours building the prototype and rushing for deadlines.

What do you have to say to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be an aspiring entrepreneur as long you have a dream and passion. Don’t settle and keep pursuing it. I believe that being an entrepreneur is a tough and difficult journey but what makes it worthwhile is the end goal and that your dreams and ideas can allow the society and the world to benefit from them.

Where do you go from here?
I have the aspiration of setting up my own company for transport technology (road, aviation, aerospace and marine), focusing on the renewable energy field but I’ll be focusing on my studies now. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for a suitable area which I can do my intensive research in and make it the fundamental platform for my business. I’ve always have dreamed of converting the conventional road into a “smart road” such that it can harness energy and at the same time make use of IoT platform to control traffic and acquire data. In the future, of having expansion to use the road as a medium network for future A.I. or for robots to work or replace road sweeper and pavement cleaner. It is quite a big area to work on so I’m looking at which area can give me a better potential in creating the base of my business.

Any other interesting info to include?
One thing I particularly wish to highlight is that there was a Junior College student who did a prototype that impressed me a lot.

Why? She was also working on micro energy-harvesting for survival. Her work has inspired me a lot as she solved a very practical problem – when a hiker or forest ranger go into the natural wilderness for several days to months and needing simple survival kits to survive. So, she created something from an existing technology, incorporating a thermoelectric material to do desalination of water for survivability.  

[Our vision was to create a smart, retrofittable, passive wind-guiding infrastructure to harness the potential of wasted wind energy from vehicle-generated updraft. Our prototype consisted of three main innovations:
1) Using an inlet and outlet angle of 30 and 5 degrees respectively, we could significantly reduce air drag. 
2) Using Venturi's principle, we could achieve air amplification, meaning faster rotation of our generators.
3) We also used magnetic levitation between the rotor and generator to reduce friction and make it easier to turn.]
We see applicability in plenty of areas – at runways, railways or even at coast sides. The key is retrofittability, especially considering Singapore's land scarcity.]



[The wind turbines align along the side of the road/air plane tracks to capture the wind updraft/wake energy. This was built for illustration purpose and we came up with it after our initial brainstorming. The tops of each wind turbine will be replaced with road lamps or runaway lights so that they can be run independently at night; and in the day time the energy generated will be stored in a battery.]​

Published on 23 August 2018​​

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