ChemE students place first at the Ontario Engineering Competition

Anne Nasato and Neha Bhasin win first place in the Communications category at the 2017 Ontario Engineering Competition.

Anne Nasato and Neha Bhasin, two U of T Chemical Engineering fourth-year students, placed first in the Communications category at the 2017 Ontario Engineering Competition, which took place in Ottawa from January 27-29. They presented on the topic of the Internet of Things (IoT), with an emphasis on cyber-security and the importance of consumer education.

The pair was invited to compete in the provincial event after placing second at the University of Toronto Engineering Kompetition (UTEK). The Communications category, which they participated in, challenges engineering students across Ontario to present technical issues to a non-technical audience. Both Anne and Neha possess a keen interest in technology and saw IoT as a topic that was not only technically challenging but would resonate to a broad group.

Their presentation was 30 minutes long and was followed by a 10-minute question and answer period conducted by judges from the Ontario Society for Professional Engineers (OSPE). Ten teams presented in the Communications category; Anne and Neha were the ninth team to present. After a long day, the duo found out that very night from OSPE reps that they had captured first place.

Anne and Neha will compete in the Canadian Engineering Competition in Calgary between March 2-5, and we wish them all the best as they represent both the University of Toronto and the province of Ontario on a national platform.

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Below is an abstract of their presentation.

“On January 5, 2017, many San Diego households discovered an unintended cost of watching the news. When anchor Jim Patton talked about a little girl who had accidentally ordered a dollhouse with her parents’ Alexa-powered Amazon Echo box, the Alexa-powered boxes of many viewers inadvertently went on their own shopping sprees.

Alexa is the voice-activated digital assistant inside the Amazon Echo box. While she is able to recognize speech, she is unable to distinguish between different speakers. After the dollhouses-for-the-masses incident, Amazon promised refunds to affected news listeners whose boxes had made orders. However, the retrospectively hilarious event brings up a more serious question for those that keep Alexa in their home: is she always listening?

Alexa enables a level of consumer connectivity that forecasts the Internet of Things (IoT) as part of day-to-day life. The IoT is fundamentally composed of everyday objects that have the ability to communicate with each other over the internet. IoT devices offer a level of convenience that typically surpasses their less dynamic counterparts’ and, accordingly, they integrate nearly seamlessly into consumer lifestyle. Some manifestations of IoT devices include wearables, household appliances and autonomous vehicles.

The wide variety of potential IoT applications means an increasingly interconnected world. As increased amounts of data are collected regarding users’ personal information and habits, the less privacy users have as their actions are analyzed by the companies that deliver goods and services to them. We believe that consumer education is paramount to the widespread responsible and safe use of increasingly interconnected technologies. Ultimately, users will need to become accustomed to ever-present “listening” by their devices; hopefully, however, these devices will deliver more personalized products and services than accidental dollhouses.”