Designed to help find solutions to big problems and inspire the next generation of tech leaders, Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow competition is back and looking for Australians aged 14 to 24 to create tech solutions that benefit everyone.
Last year, University of Tasmania student Meg Phillips won the competition with her idea to use an RFID system to warn animals of approaching cars and prevent them from becoming roadkill.
Now, with $10,000 of funding and a bunch of high-end tech products from the Korean electronics giant, Phillips is starting to put her system into place to prevent Tassie Devils from getting squished.
WLT caught up with Phillips to see how her project has evolved since winning last year’s competition.
WLT: How did you come across the competition last year?
Meg Phillips: I think I came across the competition on Instagram initially! Then I checked out the website and competition details and put it on my to-do list!
WLT: What was the process like entering the awards and why did you enter?
MP: The longest part of the process was coming up with an idea, evaluating whether it was actually viable or not, and repeating that process until I landed on the roadkill mitigation idea. It took a few days of ideating and research to get to that point, but once I had the concept, it only took a night to put together the submission, which involved a short 60-second video.
Samsung made the submission process super easy and not too time-consuming – there was a short form on the competition webpage and an upload link for the pitch video, and that was it! The video time limit is great because it limits how much detail you can go into, so you don’t need to have a super refined concept before entering.
The brief for Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow competition was to come up with a solution to a problem in your local community – I love design briefs like this because there’s so much room for creativity and you can test the skills you’ve learned at school or uni and apply them to something you’re passionate about. This is why I chose to go into engineering initially – I wanted to invent cool gadgets to do cool things!
While university teaches you the skills and theory you need, your assessments are usually fixed and don’t give you room to be creative or choose your own scope. The fun is usually lost too when you’re pressured by deadlines and grades.
That’s why it’s so important to get involved in things like the Solve for Tomorrow competition to let you run wild with your skills and creativity and target something that you’re really interested in. The incredible prizes are a huge motivation too! That’s all why I entered. It’s rewarding too when you realise you can take things you’ve learnt at uni and apply them to your own ideas.
WLT: Can you explain how your RFID system works?
MP: The system has two components. The first stage is a sensor/transmitter device that has an ultrasonic sensor that can detect passing cars, which then triggers the transmitter to send an RF signal.
This signal gets picked up by the second device which will be some distance down the road, and has a receiver and alarm. This device constantly checks if a signal is received, and when it is, it turns on an audio circuit that plays a noise, which is meant to scare animals from the road before an oncoming car approaches.
The noise itself needs to be tailored to the animals that are going to hear it. One of the key findings from my research is that for a noise to cause an animal to flee, it needs to be ‘biologically significant’ to that animal instead of an artificial noise like a high-frequency buzz. I’ll be using a combination of sounds in the alarm, including a wallaby foot thump noise which is a signal wallabies make to warn each other of danger, and the sound of crinkling cellophane, which Tassie Devils hate, probably because it sounds like crinkling leaves or fire. There hasn’t been too much research into aversive sounds across different Tasmanian species so this could be improved in the future. The sounds can be easily changed in the device to allow for this!
WLT: What advice would you give to other women looking to get involved in the competition?
MP: I couldn’t recommend getting involved more! There’s never been a better time to get involved in engineering and STEM as a woman, and Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow is a great place to start.
I find that the stress of school and uni can make it easy to forget why I’m pursuing STEM, but opportunities like this are a reminder of the capabilities you have and how applicable they are to any problem you can think of. It’s empowering to have an idea that can do the world some good, and make it come to life.
My best advice would be to not give up during the ideation stage – I churned through heaps of ideas before I landed on my final concept. If you keep getting stuck, try to change your direction. I was focusing on power-related ideas, which weren’t working out, so I decided to go in a completely different direction. I also took inspiration from around me – I had just been to an animal sanctuary at the time and was working as an intern with security systems. These experiences combined to give me the idea – proof that you never know what might trigger an awesome idea for you!
WLT: What are the next steps for your anti-roadkill system and is Samsung continuing to support you?
MP: The project ultimately became my honours project, after my supervisor saw one of the articles about me winning the Solve for Tomorrow comp and reached out to me. The exposure from the competition also helped me get in touch with a network of people with a wealth of knowledge on the topic – people from local government, professors, animal welfare groups, insurance companies etc.
The $10,000 from Samsung has allowed me to buy heaps of components to build the prototype and set up my own workshop with soldering equipment, a 3D printer, multimeters etc.
At this stage, I’ve got the first iteration of the prototype working, but there are lots of improvements to be made. The prize money will go a long way into buying more and better components to ultimately allow for field testing. For example, I hope to upgrade to induction loop sensors which are more accurate and can only be triggered by vehicles, unlike the ultrasonic sensors. I also expect I’ll need higher-powered audio components to crank the alarm volume up. And for a full-scale trial, I’ll need to manufacture lots more of the devices.
The tech pack from Samsung (i.e., Smart Monitor M7, Galaxy Z Fold3 smartphone and Galaxy Tab S7 FE tablet) has also boosted my efficiency – I’m not sure how I survived without a monitor for so long! Having the extra screens has helped me multitask, which is great for uni and work since I work remotely.
I’m planning to keep working on these next prototype iterations after I finish my honours, and am confident I have all the tools to get it to the point where I can run a field trial, streamline the manufacturing, and get the devices implemented around Australia and beyond!
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