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UArizona engineering students helping enrich lives of Reid Park Zoo animals

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Posted at 9:55 PM, May 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-18 12:46:06-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — A team of six engineering students at the University of Arizona won best overall design in their senior capstone project. This team (Anthony Sanchez, electrical engineer; Kristine Jones, the biosystems engineer; Tiffany Ma, electrical and computer engineer; Jianna Auditore, systems engineer; Sarah Labat, systems engineer; Dustin Nguyen, mechanical engineer) worked with Reid Park Zoo.

Essentially, the project was to make a sensor-based system. That would power electronic devices to further enriching the animals' lives or habitat, so allowed the animals more freedom to choose which enrichment activity they want,” said Sanchez.

Enrichment activities are like fans or misters - a kind of sensory tool the animals can choose to engage in. A project that could potentially save the park resources; saving money for fans and misters that don’t have to be on 24/7 and saving on staff availability.

“They already had the enrichment in place, but they just wanted to transfer over to making it automated so that she had more of a choice, so instead of it being like, ‘Oh, I guess I’ll go over by the fan,’ it's like, ‘Oh, I do want this fan, so I can turn it on,’ and they can kind of watch the patterns and things and see what she enjoys more,” said Jones.

The “she” Jones is referring to is Bella, the jaguar at Reid Park Zoo the team worked with. This was a year-long class developing a project from start to finish, so when they heard they won for Best Overall Design, “We were very excited. I think we were all watching anxiously. So it's really exciting to get awarded for our presentation and product,” said Ma.

The team is hopeful the zoo will be able to implement the technology fairly soon.“And we were constantly listening to what their ideas were in school anymore so throughout it I'd say they were excited and it just kind of grew as a project continued,” said Jones.“Overall, we're just super stoked to be able to work with the zoo and potentially provide cutting-edge technology for the zoos to use. And we hope to see it in and others news around America as well because it hasn't been done in the United States, yet,” said Sanchez.

Click here to watch the team's award-winning presentation.