Tech Industry Hopefuls Wow Crowd at Capstone

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Students in Camosun College’s Computer Systems and Electronics Engineering Technology programs revealed the culmination of more than 10 weeks of research and development Dec. 16 at the annual Capstone Symposium.

Held at the Comfort Hotel on Blanshard Street, the event showcased five projects developed as practical solutions to real-world problems, using cutting-edge technology such as Bluetooth, smartphone apps, and solar power.

Ken Hartman, an instructor in Camosun’s computer science department, guided the teams of students as they worked to complete their Capstone projects on time and under budget. They had only $250 to work with as they attempted to create a product and then a visual and verbal presentation in which to “sell” it to the audience of friends, family, colleagues, and potential investors gathered at the symposium.

The innovative products included a user-controlled telemarketing call-blocker app for smartphones; an intelligent irrigation system that collects weather data from the atmosphere and forecasts from the Internet to turn sprinklers on and off as needed, saving water; and the Sheep Counter, an alarm clock system that uses biorhythms to wake up users at the optimal point in their sleep cycle.

Hartman said this is the 26th or 27th year for the Capstone Symposium. He’s been involved for the past 10 or 11 and says the program is a great way to get students ready for the work force or Camosun’s bridge program to a bachelor’s or advanced degree at a school such as UVic.

Two of the projects were developed specifically for a client. Team SilenceWorks – the crew responsible for the telemarketing call-blocker app – was working to a brief supplied by Abebooks.com co-founder Rick Pura and Breen Liblong of Neverblue, a Victoria-based global lead generation network, and a former director at search giant AltaVista. Team RealtyServer was toiling at the behest of George Walker, a programming manager with RealtyServer Systems Inc., a Victoria-based Multiple Listing Service (MLS) provider. MLS software allows real-estate agents to track listings in their area and access all related data and history, but the installation program for its main application, known as INTERFACE, needed to be updated for the latest generation of operating systems, and that’s where the Camosun students entered the picture.

The fifth Capstone project was Home Control, a system that unifies the control of household electronics into one small, portable module that allows the user to wirelessly control, via a smartphone app, most household devices, including lights, TVs, stereos, computers, DVD/Blu-ray players, heaters, fans, and more. It features a wide range of wireless connectivity capabilities, such as infrared, Bluetooth, X-10, and Wi-Fi. As Team Home Control explained in their presentation, you can use the system anywhere in the world as long as your smartphone has wireless Internet access. And, since it offers Bluetooth connectivity, the system will detect the presence of your Bluetooth-enabled phone when it comes into range, and will then automatically turn on any devices you’ve specified – you can set it up so that your lights, heat, and TV are up and running when you arrive home.

Students and guests at the Capstone Symposium were treated to a keynote address by Clayton Stark, a Camosun graduate who has gone on to become a seasoned technology executive and entrepreneur. He’s currently one of the minds behind Flock, “the social web browser,” which has offices in Victoria and Redwood City, Calif.

Stark urged the students to try their hand at entrepreneurial ventures, but cautioned that they would need more than just tech smarts. Communication skills are critical to success in the technology sector, he said, and taking the time to learn a few things about business and finance will reap big rewards down the road.

“The best engineering ideas are useless unless they can be well illustrated,” said Stark.

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