UNSW students create solution to prevent electrocutions

Friday, 16 August, 2019

UNSW students create solution to prevent electrocutions

A team of students from UNSW Sydney has designed a virtual and augmented reality system that allows workers to safely shut down dangerous machinery in industrial plants. Team safAR created the solution as part of the UNSW Sydney’s Maker Games in response to Boral’s challenge to find a solution that will prevent workers from being electrocuted by industrial machinery.

UNSW Sydney's Maker Games encourages students from different faculties to come together to design prototypes that solve real-world problems, as set by industry partners. This year’s winning team, Team safAR, created augmented reality software that provides workers with step-by-step instructions on how to safely isolate machinery. The system mitigates the chance of workers being accidentally electrocuted after incorrectly isolating or turning off heavy machinery in a manufacturing plant.

Making a mistake while trying to isolate a machine can be fatal. During the pitch to judges, Team safAR revealed that an average of 27 workers die each year from electrocution and more than 530 people are hospitalised with electrical injuries. Until now, workers in industrial plants like Boral have relied on long and complicated manuals to follow correct procedures, with the risk of harm increasing when people specialising in this knowledge are away from the workplace.

How the system works

A worker wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset loaded with safAR software looks at a machine to initiate augmented reality video prompts that direct him or her to safely shut the machine down.

“It uses augmented reality, and also machine learning to recognise the machine. And then augmented reality provides a visual reminder or alerts if the machine is on,” said team member and computer science student Saloni Goda.

“The software uses AR object recognition and speech recognition,” added maths and commerce student Derek Sun. “So it’s a really easy-to-use tool; 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,” Sun explained.

“When we went to Boral’s Maldon 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,” team member Charles Chan (civil engineering) said. “So this is the best opportunity to cut in and teach the new people the strict method and giving them step-by-step instructions.”

A new angle

Boral’s chief people transformation officer Wayne Reade played mentor to Team safAR and said, 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,” Reade said.

Dean of Engineering Professor Mark Hoffman said the Maker Games was a great opportunity for students to apply their learnings to the real world and a key component of UNSW’s strategy to provide ‘quality at scale’ engineering education.

“One of the reasons the Maker Games is such a wonderful learning experience is it gets the students and industry partners together and we get some really interesting problems solved by people who aren’t constrained by pre-existing ideas,” he said. “And we have students learning by doing real-world projects, not ones we’ve created on campus.”

As part of their prize, data science student Dean Hou said the team will travel to Shanghai and Beijing to visit their top universities and see how they’re innovating.

Team safAR: Saloni Goda, Derek Sun, Dean Hou, Charles Chan and Neel Iyer.

Finalists’ projects

Other prototypes presented by Maker Games finalists were:

  • An app-controlled system to protect the home against bushfires.
  • A mask that protects water utility workers in India from inhaling deadly hydrogen sulfide.
  • An app that simulates trading on the stock market as well as real-life events affecting personal finances.
  • A virtual reality house inspection app.
  • An augmented reality remote inspection tool for fire engineers.
  • Drones and robots that can safely navigate wet and dry environments in water vessel tanks.
  • A robot that can calibrate and test optimum microphone positioning for audio hardware manufacturers.
  • A wearable clipboard/tablet device holder enabling nuclear plant workers to carry out inspections hands-free.

Image caption: Back row: Professor Mark Hoffman, Wayne Reade, Charles Chan, Dr Edward Obbard. Front row: Saloni Goda, Derek Sun, Dean Hou. Image credit: Anna Kucera.

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