The Province

‘This is going to lead to lives being saved’

Engineerin­g students at UBC’s Okanagan campus building safer donation bins after tragic deaths

- NICK EAGLAND neagland@postmedia.com

The death of a woman trapped in a clothing donation bin last summer has prompted UBC engineerin­g students to work on solutions to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

Students of Ray Taheri, a senior instructor at the School of Engineerin­g at UBC’s Okanagan campus, will present models of their designs for better bins today at an annual competitio­n.

Advocates for the homeless and poor have in recent years been calling for change to the metal bins after a string of deaths of people who get stuck inside trying to get to the donated clothing, blankets and household items.

Each year, Taheri’s students form into groups to tackle community problems with projects they present before judges at the APSC 171 Engineerin­g One Design Competitio­n. In past years, they’ve worked to make better shopping carts for the homeless and toys for children with autism.

Last July, Taheri read a news story about a woman who died in Vancouver after becoming trapped inside a donation bin owned by the Developmen­tal Disabiliti­es Associatio­n.

In that story, Union Gospel Mission spokeswoma­n Nicole Mucci talked about the work of Taheri’s students’ on shopping carts, and how it was an example of an innovative solution.

Taheri phoned Mucci and, together, they formed a plan. The students’ assignment this fall semester would be to rethink and redesign the bins so that people are unable to get in them and become trapped.

The 400 students in Taheri’s course could also design an apparatus to help elderly citizens in their daily tasks, but more than two-thirds chose to tackle the bin design, he said.

Some students have designed mechanisms that retrofit current bins, while others have designed new bins from the ground up. Some have modified and cut pieces from the bins, while others have used sensors and cameras.

Advocates have long been calling for changes to the bins used by various social agencies across North America.

In March 2016, a 20-yearold man was killed after becoming trapped inside a Surrey donation bin. In September 2015, homeless advocate Anita Hauck died in Pitt Meadows trying to get a blanket and jacket for someone who had lost their possession­s.

One man died in a bin in Ontario earlier this month and another died in Calgary in 2017. Deaths have been reported in various U.S. states in recent years.

Taheri’s students model their designs using software before making prototypes using a 3D printer or CNC milling machine. Thirty groups will compete Sunday, after being selected from 60 video submission­s on Friday.

The instructor said he was thrilled with his students’ work and commitment. Some nights he leaves his office late to find them still working in the foyer of the engineerin­g building, he said.

“They’re very brilliant young students with a great future, and I’m very confident that perhaps some groups will come with innovative ideas,” he said. “Perhaps maybe the combinatio­n of all these designs, we can present it to the manufactur­er and they can put it into mass production.”

UGM’s Mucci said it has been heartening to see the community working together to solve a serious problem. The UGM wants to ensure its guests are safe and she hopes that all organizati­ons using the bins will “seek out life-saving solutions,” she said.

“We’re just thrilled to see true systemic change beginning to happen. There’s so many lives that are on the line and right now. This is going to lead to lives being saved down the road.”

The Developmen­tal Disabiliti­es Associatio­n is sending representa­tives to help judge the designs on Sunday.

“It is great to hear that the community is supporting us in finding new solutions, and this could be the start of a great relationsh­ip with UBCO,” spokesman Kevin Chan said in an email.

 ?? GERRY KAHRMANN /PNG ?? A man digs through a donation bin in 2015. After a string of deaths involving the containers, engineerin­g students at UBC’s Okanagan campus have taken up the challenge of redesignin­g the bins to make them safer.
GERRY KAHRMANN /PNG A man digs through a donation bin in 2015. After a string of deaths involving the containers, engineerin­g students at UBC’s Okanagan campus have taken up the challenge of redesignin­g the bins to make them safer.
 ??  ?? RAY TAHERI
RAY TAHERI

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