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NZ Duo Win Science Bledisloe

NZ Duo Win Science Bledisloe

Auckland, 27 June 2003: Intelligent road studs that warn drivers of ice or accidents ahead have won a prestigious $A20,000 Australasian award for two University of Auckland students in the first year it has been open to New Zealand entries.

Beating more than 25 universities, Sam Siddawi and Michael Nasa won the Trans-Tasman Siemens Prize for Innovation with an invention that allows road engineers to change the colour and intensity of light from road studs remotely and at will.

The presentation of the award before 450 engineers at Melbourne raised eyebrows over a scientific Bledisloe win, says Michael Nasa. “I think a lot of people were surprised - this is the Prize’s sixth year and only the first time New Zealand entrants have been eligible.”

Other top contenders included a portable Braille text translator, a prediction device for the onset of diabetes and a solar car control system.

The duo’s invention builds on a revolutionary wireless power system developed at The University of Auckland over 13 years by a team led by Professor John Boys.

IPT, or inductive power transfer, enables power to be transmitted across an air gap. The technology has been commercialised by Auckland UniServices Limited, which manages all commercial research for the university, and now runs monorails in Europe and is under development for factory automation systems in Japan and Germany. New Zealand company, Harding Traffic Systems, have pioneered the use of IPT to power glowing road studs. Now used in the Terrace tunnel in Wellington and in tunnels around the world, Harding’s “Smart Studs” earned $2 million in export revenue last year, a figure tipped to reach $100 million by 2010.

The students’ invention, which takes the technology through to proof of concept, can make road studs instantly glow in different colours to shift traffic flows in peak times, warn of ice or accidents, or signal ways out of a tunnel in an emergency. Their system also means road studs can be powered by battery.

Developing the technology meant many long nights of hard work, including many sleeping over in the lab, Michael says. “Sam is a real night-time person, so we have tended to work very late, often through to dawn. I’ve got used to sleeping over just on a few chairs at the lab. “

Both students are from families that came to New Zealand from Iraq and Jordan. “I know I wouldn’t have had an opportunity like this if my family hadn’t come to New Zealand,” Michael says. “And I think it shows that at university level there is enough knowledge and talent in New Zealand to go out and take on the world.”

Harding Chief Executive Officer, Tim Crabtree, said the company would be continuing to work closely with the students and with the University through UniServices to develop the technology.

Managing Director of Siemens New Zealand, Graeme Sumner, said the company sponsored the prize to support innovation. “We are truly delighted by this win. We think the engineering industry is in good hands with talent like this coming through.”

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