Team members Charles Chan (back centre), Saloni Goda, Derek Sun and Dean Hou (front) with Wayne Reade, Boral and Dr Edward Obbard, UNSW

The University of NSW’s Maker Games, now in its third year, encourages students from multiple faculties to team together and design prototypes that solve real-world problems as set by industry partners. This year’s winner is an augmented reality system designed to eliminate the chances of workers being electrocuted by industrial machinery.

Team safAR impressed the judges after responding to a challenge from construction materials manufacturer Boral to come up with a way of preventing its workers from being accidentally electrocuted after incorrectly turning off and isolating heavy machinery in its manufacturing plants.

Making a simple mistake while isolating a machine can be fatal, with an average of 27 workers nationwide dying from electrocution each year, and more than 530 being hospitalised with electrical injuries, Team safAR said in its pitch to the judges.

The team’s members, Saloni Goda (computer science), Derek Sun (maths and commerce), Dean Hou (data science), Charles Chan (civil engineering) and Neel Iyer (data science), responded to the problem by creating a system that uses augmented reality to provide step-by-step instructions to workers about how to safely isolate machinery.

A worker wearing a virtual reality headset loaded with the team’s software simply needs to look at the machine in question to be offered AR video prompts directing him or her to safely shut it down.

“It uses augmented reality, and also machine learning to recognise the machine,” Goda says. “And then augmented reality provides a visual reminder or alerts if the machine is on.”

“The software uses AR object recognition and speech recognition,” Sun adds. “So it's a really easy-to-use tool that any construction worker can look at the machinery and instantly get feedback on what they should do in the field. It uses some small safety glasses, which are essentially similar to Microsoft’s HoloLens, that give you a VR/AR kind of display. So that while you’re in the field, you can operate our software hands free.”

Up until now, workers in industrial plants like Boral have had to rely on long and complicated manuals to follow the correct procedure, with risks of harm increasing when people specialising in this knowledge are away from the workplace.

“When we went to Boral’s Maldon [south-west of Sydney] concrete factory, we realised that over the next 10 years, there’s going to be a generational shift, especially in the training and how they're going to be doing electrical isolation,” Chan says. “So this is the best opportunity to cut in and teach the new people the strict method and giving them step-by-step instructions.”

Boral’s chief people transformation officer Wayne Reade, who mentored the team, says that in addition to being very proud of his young charges, he was impressed with the fresh approach they brought to solving the problem.

“Having people that weren't fixed, but were very open minded around how to solve problems really differently, and having them go out to site and listen and engage with people at the front line, and understanding what are their pain points was a really, really important step for Boral,” he says.

As part of their prize, the winning students will soon be travelling to Shanghai and Beijing to “look at their top universities and see how they’re innovating and learning about their entrepreneurs”, Hou says.

Other prototypes presented by this year’s finalists include apps, VR/AR systems and physical equipment.

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