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Young engineer cleans windows and saves lives

By David, 24 May 2018 News

Photo of a young man with a screw driver, adjusting a machine.

Oliver’s robot is ready to clean up! Image: Intel/Chris Ayers/Society for Science & the Public)

If you hate cleaning windows, then do we have the invention for you! Sydney high school student Oliver Nicholls has developed a robotic window cleaner that has impressed the world. In fact, he just took out the top award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Pittsburgh in the United States!

At first glance, a window cleaning robot might seem a bit over the top. But in reality, window cleaning is an expensive and dangerous business. Oliver’s focus wasn’t frivolous, he wants to save lives.

“I was looking for a project to do and I discovered that someone had fallen off a glass panel they were cleaning,” he says. “Around the same time, a gantry [support structure] collapsed in the city. So these two things combined for me. Why does that need to be a person doing a dangerous activity? Why can’t that just be a robot?”

After much experimentation, Oliver came up with a solution. His robot looks a bit like a quadcopter drone, but with a literal twist. The whole thing is flying sideways!

The robot uses a system of ropes and pulleys to move over a window, cleaning as it goes. When it’s time to move to another window, the drone tech kicks in. “It crosses the mullions – the dividers between the windows – by using drone motors and propellers to fly off the window,” explains Oliver.

Growing up, Oliver was a keen subscriber to Double Helix magazine, and he has always loved science and engineering. “It seems to me like an easy way to make a real impact on the world,” says Oliver. “Anyone can develop a product or a system that can change millions of lives.”

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