On November 27th, the first novel innovation conference called the C4 Challenge was held at the University of Toronto. This conference was put together by two well known groups, CUTC and Nspire, who strive to provide students with the opportunity to use their creativity, engineering know-how and entrepreneurial skills to solve problems in a competitive setting. Over the past few years, these groups have independently built a great deal of reputation for themselves in their ability to gather large groups of university students from across Ontario to collaborate in producing innovative designs to solve common, everyday problems.
The goal of the C4 Challenge this year was to target the issue of environmental sustainability in the home. The conference brought together engineering and business students from the University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, McMaster University and Ryerson University in to compete in this innovative competition. The turnout was great since a total of 46 students came out Saturday morning for the conference’s debut year. These students were then separated into groups of four and were given the task of developing a product that would make a typical home more environmentally friendly. If this was not hard enough, the students had to develop their product and present a full business proposal in a matter of four hours in front of a panel of very experienced and talented judges, who are all involved with environmental sustainability endeavours in their own right.
There were plenty of great designs, ranging from using micro-turbines in the drainage system for energy production, to the use of basic circuitry that would shut off all power in one’s house with the flick of a switch, thus eliminating waste energy through “Phantom Power.” However, a design proposed by a group comprising two University of Waterloo students and two University of Toronto students was the most appealing in the eyes of the judges. Their solution was to integrate a GPS system, which can be found on almost any smart phone, into the common digital thermostat found in any typical home. The system would use the position of the user with respect to the house to determine whether the home should be heated or cooled. In this way, the furnace or air conditioner would never have to be at its maximum use when the people living in the house were not present. In addition, the system would turn back on to the appropriate settings whenever the users were within a certain distance from the home. This design aimed to have users enter their home to find a comfortable environment without having to waste energy if the house was kept at this temperature when no one was present.
The C4 Challenge, being a student-run competition, was managed by CUTC and Nspire with six students who, for lack of a better word, ran the show. It was also surprising to find that the three of these students organizing this event were, in fact, current engineering students at the University of Waterloo. Given the different backgrounds of participating students at the conference, this challenge was a great learning experience. While the conference allowed students to be innovative in an environmentally friendly sense, this conference also provided many networking opportunities for students by allowing them to interact with prominent figures at the forefront of providing sustainable energy. In my case, this unique conference provided me with many opportunities to learn skills not taught in class and meet like-minded individuals. I therefore believe that this will become an important event for students to look forward to in the upcoming years.