Students Win Big With Animal Enrichment Device for Reid Park Zoo

May 7, 2021

The University of Arizona handed out $46,000 in cash prizes to senior engineering students as part of its Craig M. Berge Design Day.

The ceremony showcased the yearlong efforts of UA engineering seniors on 99 projects largely sponsored by industry.

The prototypes designed and built by students and displayed on Design Day featured a wide range of solutions to real-world engineering problems.

Students competed for corporate and private-sponsored cash prizes that rewarded innovation and excellence in engineering questions.

The students took on challenging real-world projects and competed to win awards in innovation and excellence in engineering design.

The team that created an animal enrichment device for the Reid Park Zoo won the Raytheon Award for the best overall design, which came with a $5,000 prize. This project was made possible by a donation from the Craig M. Berge endowment supporting community projects. 

Reid Park Zoo’s Animal Welfare Specialist Stephanie Norton partnered with the team of students to come up with the automated device.

“Enrichment is anything we do for our animals here at the zoo that gives a little bit extra to their day,” Norton said.

Norton said they tested the device on an 11-year-old jaguar, Bella.

“She is super energetic, she is super playful,” Norton said. “She is such an intelligent animal, we thought she would be a really good candidate to test this on.”

Anthony Sanchez is an electrical and computer engineering senior on the team who helped design and build the device.

“Through a lot of prototyping we were able to come up with this final design and put it together,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the team worked for a year to create the final product.

“Countless hours. There were a lot of weekends, a lot of late nights. I don’t get emotional often, but when I dropped off the final units, I was a little emotional that day,” Sanchez said.

The team created four units, which contain motion detectors that when activated by an animal, like Bella, turn on an enrichment device.

Bella caught on quickly.

“She tested it and she loved it. She came up to it and she was watching the enrichment item as it moved around. She left for a little bit and when it turned off, she walked back over and turned it on,” Norton said.

While the device just earned the team a big cash prize, perhaps the most rewarding part of the project was watching Bella interact with the first-of-its-kind design.

“Being able to see Bella utilize the system and her interest in the enrichment activities, is probably the most rewarding I could have asked for on this project,” Sanchez said.

The zoo plans to use the devices in different animal habitats.

The enrichment items vary from misters, fans, bubble machines, even essential oil diffusers.

Learn more about Craig M. Berge Design Day Awards here.

This article appears in full at KOLD News 13.

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