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Cardno drones challenge helps students’ ideas take flight

15 August 2017
Engineering students solve real-world problems for top company

Some of the University’s brightest undergraduate engineering students have spent the first few weeks of semester coming up with innovative new ideas to help leading engineering firm Cardno navigate a drone-enabled future.

A Cardno drone.

A Cardno drone. Image courtesy: Cardno.

The students were invited to participate in Cardno’s Fast Response Challenge, as part of the University’s Advanced Engineering Program. This program offers students demonstrating outstanding academic ability the opportunity to work on a small supervised group project tackling a specific engineering problem relevant to the community. Many of these students are combining their engineering degree with studies in architecture, commerce, medical science or science.

Last semester, the students participated in a preliminary challenge to design and demonstrate a practical means to dramatically improve the quality of life for the residents of Espiritu Santo in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu. The top 18 students from this competition were then invited to take part in the Cardno challenge.

For the challenge, the 18 students were split into three teams and tasked with analysing the potential application of drones to Cardno’s future business development. Each team came up with a new idea about how drones could be used for remote inspections of either waterway assets, bridges, or a building/structure (i.e. a stadium).

The three teams had just 10 days to develop their new ideas, while also taking into account current best practice, new technologies, regulatory constraints and costs. They also benefited from mentoring and advice from senior engineers from Cardno.

The students refined their ideas before presenting to a panel of judges – including senior leaders from Cardno and the University’s Faculty of Engineering and IT – on Monday 14 August.

Ideas ranged from new applications for drones (such as soil erosion monitoring or building inspections), to new and anticipated research advances (for example in materials and batteries) that could make a significant impact.

Martin Wells, General Manager – APAC South at Cardno, praised the students for their content, creativity and presentation skills, and said the overall calibre of the presentations was outstanding.

“We were very impressed with the students’ innovative ideas for capturing data using remote controlled aerial drones. Disruptive technologies such as this are vital in the work done by engineers, scientists, surveyors and planners in how we influence our environment and society. Our partnership with the Advanced Engineering Program of the University of Sydney is another great example of how we at Cardno support the future leaders of our industry,” he said.

Professor Ron Johnston, Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Innovation and Co-ordinator of the Advanced Engineering Program, said the students and Cardno engineers mutually benefited from taking part in the challenge.     

“For the students, still in their first year, the opportunity to demonstrate the application of their considerable skills in a real-world business context is one they relish. For the company, it provides the opportunity to gain an insight into the talent and commitment of our young advanced engineers, and to grasp the potential they offer as engineers of the future,” he said.