Tan Sze Wei often felt like a clown when he rode his bicycle at night. The 24-year-old felt like a circus act, having to make a hand signal with one hand while steering his bike with his other.
If he signalled for too short a time, other road users might not notice. If he signalled for too long, he would start wobbling on his bike. So, he and his friend, Mr Low Kang Jiang, both from the National University of Singapore (NUS), worked on a solution to this problem: a smart vest with LED lights for cyclists to signal their intentions.
The vest translates hand gestures into LED signals and messages such as "turning", "slowing down" and "stopping". If the cyclist falls and cannot get up, the vest will sound an alarm.
Their invention won them a cool $10,000 at the iNEMO Design Contest, organised by semiconductor giant STMicroelectronics.
The pair were among seven teams of Nanyang Technological University and NUS final-year engineering undergraduates who took part in the contest, which is now in its second year.
It aims to encourage young engineers to develop useful inventions using STM's smart Mems or microelectromechanical sensors.
Mr Low, 24, was pleased with his team's win, saying: "This competition gave us a good chance to boost our resume. We see a big future in Mems sensor technology and this is one reason why we participated in the competition."
Mems are essentially computer chips with a microprocessor and a sensor that detect movement, orientation and other changes in the surrounding environment. They are found in many modern devices, from smartphones to cars.
Runners-up Mr Samdish Suri and Mr Bai Xiao, both 24 and from NUS, won $5,000 for their gesture recognition system, which uses a neural network. Such a system learns over time, recognising more complex gestures than gaming device, such as the Wii and Kinect, and grows more accurate with repeated use.
In the future, they hope to develop the ability to read hand gestures which can accurately control computers. Think Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise's character used hand gestures, not a mouse and keyboard, to control his computer.
In third place, Mr Vivek Kamatchi Sundaram and Mr Adeel Safdar of NUS won $3,000 for developing a tool for home physiotherapy sessions. It lets a physiotherapist set rehabilitative exercises and vary the number of repetitions for recovering stroke patients. Physiotherapists can also use it to remotely watch patients exercise in real time. Sensors attached to the patients note if the exercises are done correctly.
Other inventions included:
An anti-runaway baby stroller that brakes automatically when the stroller moves without being touched, thus preventing accidents that might happen on a sloping ground; and
A self-balancing robot that compensates automatically for instability, which can help to serve people in clubs, homes, hospitals and crowded places.
STMicroelectronics' Giuseppe Noviello, the company's marketing director for high-end sensor and analogue division, was the judge.
He said: "Smart sensor technology is a key building block for the upcoming major trends in the Internet of Things and Wearable Technologies. It is important for young engineers today to be introduced to this key technology."
He was impressed by the entries. "They have demonstrated a lot of originality and creativity in the prototypes that they have designed and built."
STMicroelectronics engineers mentored the students and provided Mems smart-sensor modules and $500 to buy third-party materials. The submissions for the iNEMO Design contest were part of the students' final-year projects.
This article was first published on May 21, 2014.
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