DCU final year expo demonstrates variety of STEM career options
This year’s DCU Faculty of Engineering & Computing Final Year Project Expo provided a valuable window on the state of STEM (science technology engineering maths) education in Ireland and the areas of interest that will come to define the nation’s contribution to the tech sector at a local and global level.
Of the many reasons to be optimistic was the spread of projects, as well as the overall uptake of courses, growing from a mere 25 during the 1980s to more than 220 this year.
This point was elaborated on by Prof Lisa Looney, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering & Computing, in her introductory comments, saying: “We believe that the range of final year projects reflects the great opportunities for these young graduates to contribute to the advancement of Irish society. Many of the projects displayed represent products with immediate commercial potential; all demonstrate ingenuity, skill and technical capability of the highest calibre.”
The spread of projects covered six key areas: computer applications; enterprise computing; computational problem solving and software development; electronic & computer engineering; mechatronic engineering; manufacturing engineering with business; biomedical engineering; and mechanical & manufacturing engineering.
Dig a little deeper and a more detailed picture emerges where emerging technologies like virtual and augmented reality (a combined four projects), natural language processing (six projects), character recognition (four), and vehicle control systems (one) are shown to be not quite ready for significant uptake at under- and postgraduate level.
Having done an extensive tour of the exhibition floor it was heartening to see projects embracing a wealth of problems from injecting a bit of novelty into stale social networks, detecting ‘brigading’ on the message board Reddit to help moderators shut down discussion threads inundated with fake accounts and a DCU chat bot to act as an information resource for students.
DCU’s work with Croke Park as an IoT test bed was referenced by two projects, one based on hardware and the other software. The simply titled Croke Park turf testing device provides guidance for athletes as to the safety of wearing running shoes with different sized studs – from shallow blades providing stability for running to to lengthy studs for props in rugby where traction is key. Football and Hurling were more directly involved in a mobile app that acts as a real time match statistics tracker.
Blockchain made an appearance in two projects of note: a method for tracking the secure transfer of peer-to-peer IoT data and a method for verifying and tracking votes in general elections and referendums. The latter, Electio, is based on Ethereum, generates a unique blockchain for a plebiscite, the key for which would be kept by a returning officer.
Advancements in medtech and methods to aid in bone repair through the use of scaffolds (pioneered by the SFI-backed AMBER materials research centre), cement, and hydrogel.
Looking towards the future and the challenge of making STEM subjects more attractive Maths AR combined an augmented reality iOS app and real time analytics to create meaningful problems using familiar materials such as gaming avatars and track individual progress. Results can be displayed via a personalised dashboard that can be shared with parents. Such projects bringing together emerging fields like blended reality with data-driven insights could well become the norm as real time feedback and rapid product iteration become the norm. I look forward to seeing more work based on this principal in the coming years.