Over a weekend in late October, this year’s GradHack teams were tasked with the challenge brief: How can engineers create sustainable, long term outcomes for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games?
They were then required to provide an engineering solution tied in with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) that could be presented to the Brisbane Organising Committee (BOC) in a five-minute video submission.
The BOC’s goal is to create a climate-positive Games with long-term outcomes, so the GradHack teams had to think outside-the-box to identify any gaps in the plan.
The finals took place on 17 November, with each of the five top teams presenting their ideas to a panel of judges.
While the two winners both designed realistic solutions that could be scaled up post–Olympics, their innovations couldn’t be more different.
Harvesting energy from the crowd
First-place winners Willa Budiman and Emelin Ananda Baru have known each other since their first year at Adelaide University, where they both studied a Bachelor of Mechanical and Sustainable Energy Engineering.
Entering the GradHack under the ‘Green Stars’ moniker, the pair identified that carbon emissions are expected to increase dramatically during the Brisbane Olympics due to the events’ electricity usage and transport.
“We were looking for a solution that people would want to be part of,” says Willa, a Graduate Engineer at Sage Automation.
“It was our vision to create something that’s not only technically sound, but also engaging to the audience.”
Leveraging their shared passion for sustainability, the team chose to tackle UNSDG 12, responsible production and consumption.
They posed the question: what if visitors and athletes could be electricity producers when they compete in, and walk around, the venues?
The Olympics brings together thousands of the best athletes in the world, along with millions of tourists and local visitors. To utilise their unharnessed energy, Green Stars came up with an idea for an ‘Eco-floor’, with the help of quartz as a piezoelectric material.
“The tile surface and frame are created from recycled timber for sustainability, and are supported by a spring that prevents the piezoelectric plate from breaking,” says Emelin, Engineering Project Coordinator at Bickford’s Group.
“When the tile surface comes in contact with the piezoelectric plate, it generates electric charge.”
The electricity generated from Eco-floor can be used to power lights and connected power points, with excess power stored in the battery for further consumption.
There’s no need to wait until the Olympics to implement the technology either.
“We don’t want to produce thousands of tiles that would be inefficient and waste unnecessary resources,” says Willa. “Through trials, we can understand how humans interact with the energy-harvesting floor and create a better design, as well as validate where the hotspots in existing arenas are and where most people pass by.”
Looking forward, the Eco-floor could then be applied on a larger scale such as in central business districts, or in street malls such as South Australia’s Rundle Mall.
While Emelin says the team “never expected to win” she is proud of their achievement.
“And it’s not going to stop here,” adds Willa “We are open and keen to challenge ourselves when future opportunities arise.”
Memeable moments, brought to you by AI
When Woon Hwan (Ed) Choi, a Graduate Electrical Engineer at Santos, first heard about EA’s GradHack, he thought it might be fun to give it a go.
His colleague Anoushka Rehan, Production Engineer at Santos and experienced hackathon participant, agreed. The two then formed the ‘Pollution Solution’ team that placed second in the GradHack final.
Before meeting for their first brainstorming session, Anoushka and Ed did independent research to get a handle on the issues Olympic hosting cities face.
“I went through articles looking up the keywords ‘Olympics’ and ‘problems’,” says Anoushka. “If you remove all the environmental issues, it was about reduced popularity, relevancy, and viewership.”
With this in mind, the team posed the question: with the declining popularity of the Olympic Games, and the increasing costs to the host city, how can we increase viewership to generate more revenue?
While not aligned to the theme of sustainability in a traditional sense, economic development is a UNSDG that other teams overlooked.
“It was different, but it was still a goal,” says Anoushka. “When you’re doing a hackathon, you really want to set yourself apart.”
With Anoushka’s digital prowess and Ed’s sports knowledge, the team came up with the idea of utilising Artificial intelligence (AI) to identify memeable moments to create more engaging content.
“Moments that become internet memes tend to generate a lot of views,” says Ed. “We were thinking along the lines of memorable Olympics moments such as the Australian swimming coach’s [wild] celebration at the Tokyo Olympics.”
Using AI to select these moments is a movement away from the subjective viewpoint of a broadcast director, who monitors multiple cameras simultaneously and selects what they think is interesting, says Ed.
Instead, the AI system could be trained to look for moments where people in the crowd stand up or make a gasping face, with the inputs programmed as feedback loops.
While the content could be posted on any platform, the TikTok algorithm is particularly known for making moments go viral.
“TikTok almost randomly picks videos to put on the ‘For You’ page,” says Anoushka. “Unlike YouTube, where the equivalent ‘for you’ page is based on what already has high engagement, making it hard for someone new to get in.”
The team estimated the solution would generate greater ad revenue from increased viewership, with the additional perks of lower labour and broadcast costs.
“The higher the viewership, the higher the bids sponsorship companies would place for advertisements during the Olympics,” says Ed.
“The expectation is that with some monitoring and minimal personnel, you can keep the solution relatively agile, because there aren’t many hardware components,” adds Anoushka.
While Pollution Solution’s lateral thinking set the team apart, another winning aspect was that idea can be implemented here and now.
“We can begin the prep process and build up to the Olympics, making sure we’re full-force ready to go by then,” says Anoushka.
The technology could also improve sports-generated revenue long after the Olympics wrap up.
“It could be used at a local level to garner more interest in less popular sports through the short-form highlight reels,” adds Ed.
Participating in competitions such as the GradHack gives engineers a chance to branch out from their everyday engineering roles, thinks Anoushka.
“Meeting up with colleagues [and peers] outside of work in an activity setting is a nice social thing to do,” she says.
“It’s fun to [engage] in fast-paced problem solving and to give yourself a challenge.”
To watch the video submissions from all the GradHack finalists, click here.