Creating Human Connection at UBC

  • By Team #C2UExpo
  • 01 Sep, 2016

This story originally appeared in Connected by Commitment: The 2015-16 UBC Annual Report .

For people living on society’s margins, meeting the challenges of day-to-day living can be exhausting. This past year, UBC joined forces with the wider community to help lighten the load.

At UBC Okanagan, a unique project brought the university and the community together with industry to solve a problem faced by people who are living on the streets: that of disappearing possessions. “It is difficult for a homeless person to manage their belongings,” explains UBC research engineer Bryn Crawford. “Often, they can’t leave them at an overnight shelter, and if they have an appointment or end up at the hospital, they end up leaving all their belongings by the side of the road. Often, those items will go missing and then they have to start collecting them all over again.”

Recognizing that people experiencing homelessness are at risk of having their possessions stolen or hauled off to the dump, Abbas Milani, UBC engineering professor and coordinator of the Okanagan node of the Composites Research Network, saw an opportunity for the university to create positive change in regard to a widespread societal issue. He tasked his first-year engineering students to conceptualize a lightweight, foldable, mobile personal-belongings carrier that can be locked. Fourth-year and graduate students worked on developing a prototype, testing ideas that supported the best design and examining the manufacturing feasibility.

The engineering students seized the opportunity, excited to develop a useful innovation that would measurably help people in their community. Design consultations included members of the homeless community, the RCMP, Metro Community Church in downtown Kelowna, and UBC students, staff and faculty.

In the end, the students created four design alternatives for a rugged, durable, rust-resistant carrier made of manufactured composite material. One version even houses a small electrical generator that, when the carrier is pushed continuously, will charge a battery. Says Milani: “Not only do we have undergraduate and graduate students involved in the different stages of design and production, but we also have members from the community and industry, as well as faculty and staff. Everyone is taking pride in this design.”

The carrier will be made of a manufactured composite material, likely on the UBC Okanagan campus. Kelowna-based Waterplay Solutions has donated in-kind funding and the project has also received support from Metro Church. A full-scale prototype should be on the ground by early 2017, making urban street life in Kelowna just that little bit easier.


Photo credit: Martin Dee

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