Common objects are being transformed into possible life-changing technologies at the University of Calgary’s engineering design fair.

Those objects could be as common as a balloon, some sugar and a bike pump.

“We put some sugar in a balloon and we reverse a bike pump, and when you pull on the bike pump, our balloon gets rigid or hard, and if you have that formed around an object, you can actually pick up the object,” said Tyler Anker, engineering student.

Anker’s team created the simple device to act as a prosthetic arm for people who might not have access to one otherwise, and it only cost $25.

“The beauty in our project is that it’s so simple and anyone can make it,” he said. “In other countries where people couldn’t afford that or people struggle with amputations, we think it could be pretty useful.”

That kind of invention is just one of many at the Schulich School of Engineering’s 2017 design fair, held Monday morning at the Olympic Oval. Students have been working on their ideas since September, and even in the case of low-tech designs like the balloon arm, some pretty high-level engineering concepts are used.

“In general it’s a robotics application, and it’s still not one of the mainstream ones, it’s kind of just being researched right now,” said Anker.

Other teams also used a low-tech approach to create designs that could solve real-world problems.

“I think the main message we are given is you always want to make a profit,” said Shalese Baxandall, engineering student. “But a lot of people don’t consider doing something to help others.”

Baxandall’s team created a simple robotic hand that would be cheap to manufacture in third-world countries, and some of the team members plan to continue developing the idea beyond the fair.

“We plan on working with Innovate Calgary and seeing the feasibility of getting our product out there and who we can collaborate with in order to keep the project running,” she said.

That kind of innovative thinking is what the school encourages in students.

“This is a chance for the students to really demonstrate their skills and come up with meaningful and creative solutions to open-ended real-world problems,” said Arin Sen, University of Calgary engineering professor. “These are problems that companies are facing right now and they are saying maybe the students can help us out, sometimes students can be very creative and be able to see things from a different perspective.”

Some of the teams are making their designs freely available on the internet in the hopes that it will help people around the world solve common problems.

You can take a look at how to make the balloon arm prosthetic here.