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After chatting with University of Wollongong student Sam Noakes I came to the conclusion he is one extraordinary 21-year-old.
Sam Noakes piloting his surveillance drone. He’s been developing a drone for the RMS to assist in surveillance of bridges. Picture: Robert Peet
The young entrepreneur’s fascination with technology prompted him to find a way he could incorporate drones into everyday life and help industry in rural areas.
The drive led Mr Noakes, originally from Parkes in NSW Central West, to win the UOW Pitch 2016 (undergraduate) for his big idea of using custom built drones for surveillance operations by Roads and Maritime Services.
“I’m lucky to win a scratchie sometimes, it’s unreal,” he said.
“Mum works for the RMS and said they’re always looking at new robotics.
“I love playing with all the new technology and showing people [drones have] more use than just a flying helicopter.”
The competition allows sole entrepreneurs or groups to pitch an idea or invention to a panel of experts at the UOW Innovation Campus in the hope of winning $6,000 to develop the idea.
However Mr Noakes’ vision is already becoming a reality, having worked on the project with the RMS for the last year and a half and is now in the final test phases.
He developed and built a drone from scratch for the purpose of surveying bridges, where scaffolding alone can cost $30,000 and other “nasties” like snakes and working at heights can cause difficulty.
He first noticed these issues when doing work experience with the RMS in year 10, a problem he “took with him through the years”.
“I wondered how to get back to my roots back home somehow, and the RMS is one of the bigger companies that keep the town afloat so I naturally gravitated towards that and it got support straight away,” he said.
“We use bridges every day, the flooding back home is going to [cause] enormous structural damage …the icing on the cake is it’s going to be cheaper and making sure all my family are driving on safe bridges.”
The 360 degree footage taken by the drone can also be used in training exercises and archived for future reference.
Mr Noakes said initially people were worried of job losses, but the “cool thing” about his project is it could actually create new jobs.
“Everyone that is there normally still needs to be there because they need to give navigation requests under the bridge, make inspections and they also need a pilot.
“If anything, they might start hiring drone pilots and that might be a new career for someone.”
The next step is to test it with the RMS in Parkes, with plans of future refinement including the potential to 3D print parts and managing e-waste.
“If there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and they offer me a job that’s awesome.”