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University of Waterloo invention wins International James Dyson Award

University of Waterloo

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IMAGE: Voltera V-One, a custom circuit board printer developed by University of Waterloo engineering students, has taken top prize in this year's International James Dyson Award competition, beating out a record... view more

Credit: Voltera

Voltera V-One, a custom circuit board printer developed by University of Waterloo engineering students, has taken top prize in this year's International James Dyson Award competition, beating out a record 710 entries from 20 countries.

The printer, created by Alroy Almeida, Katarina Ilic, James Pickard, and Jesús Zozaya as their 2013 Engineering Capstone Design project, enables circuit boards to be prototyped within minutes, eliminating the frustrations with traditional fabrication processes and drastically reducing hardware development time.

The company currently operates out of Velocity, a startup incubator run by the University of Waterloo.

"The team behind Voltera are the latest in a growing line of successful innovators to emerge from this University's vibrant entrepreneurial environment," said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of Waterloo. "Voltera have used the knowledge gained studying at Waterloo together with experience in co-op employment to create a truly innovative product and I am immensely proud of their achievements." 

While studying mechatronics engineering, Almeida, Zozaya, and Pickard became frustrated by the inefficiency of designing circuit boards. Teaming up with Ilic, who was studying nanotechnology engineering, the students spent two years improving the electrical properties of the conductive nano-silver ink, producing a compact electromechanical system to dispense the thick ink and developing a software algorithm to control it precisely.

The end result -- the Voltera V-One printer -- was named one of the top 10 innovations for 2015 by Popular Science. It also has been recognized as the 2015 TechCrunch Disrupt (Hardware Battlefield) Champion and this year's Make Magazine Editor's Choice.

After graduation in 2013, the team members moved Voltera into the Velocity Garage and later, the Velocity Foundry, the hardware arm of Waterloo's successful incubator.

"We're lucky to have been encouraged and supported by the University of Waterloo. As a startup, the university's name has opened doors for us on a worldwide stage," said Jesús Zozaya. "We receive guidance from Velocity mentors on a daily basis and regardless of the problem, they always find a way to put things into perspective and make the next steps clear. As students, we had the opportunity to experience different industries through the co-op program, and as employers, we have a constant supply of high quality students that have proven invaluable to the development of the Voltera V-One."

Voltera is the first Canadian project to capture the prestigious Dyson award that comes with a prize of about $54,000 (CAD) for the team members and $9,000 for the University's Faculty of Engineering.

"The Voltera V-One printer pushes the boundaries of innovation," said Pearl Sullivan, dean of Waterloo Engineering. "It is an excellent example of what our students are capable of when they graduate from Waterloo Engineering.  They took a very complex problem and came up with an elegant solution that would change customized circuit printing forever. The future of technology innovation in Canada lies within brilliant teams like Voltera."

The James Dyson Award, launched by the James Dyson Foundation in 2007, is an international student design challenge open to university level students and recent graduates in the fields of product design, industrial design and engineering with the objective to design something that solves a problem.

Last year Suncayr, a Waterloo nanotechnology engineering student startup, was the first runner up in the International James Dyson Award competition. Suncayr invented an easy-to-use marker that indicates when sunscreen needs to be reapplied. Also started as a Waterloo Engineering Capstone Design Project, it is now part of the University's Velocity Foundry and Velocity Science startup programs.

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About the University of Waterloo

In just half a century, the University of Waterloo, located at the heart of Canada's technology hub, has become one of Canada's leading comprehensive universities with 35,000 full- and part-time students in undergraduate and graduate programs. A globally focused institution, celebrated as Canada's most innovative university for 24 consecutive years, Waterloo is home to the world's largest post-secondary co-operative education program and encourages enterprising partnerships in learning, research and discovery. In the next decade, the university is committed to building a better future for Canada and the world by championing innovation and collaboration to create solutions relevant to the needs of today and tomorrow. For more information about Waterloo, please visit uwaterloo.ca.

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