Robot a prize winner for local inventor

Oliver Nicholls with his window cleaning robot
Oliver Nicholls with his window cleaning robot
Jenny Barlass

A young Turramurra inventor has walked away with the top prize in an international invention competition for his ingenious window cleaning robot.

Last week 19 year-old Oliver Nicholls beat off competition from 1800 other high school students from 75 countries to land the top prize, the $US75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award, at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition.

Oliver was spurred on after he learned of separate accidents involving a window cleaner falling while at work and the collapse of a high-rise gantry in the city. “When I heard, I thought: ‘why can’t I make a robot so people don’t have to do this dangerous activity?’”

In Year 12 at Barker College in Waitara, Oliver came up with the idea of a robot doing the window cleaning, for his Design and Technology major work. He plunged into rigorous research and development over the course of nine months, whilst busy with all his other HSC work, and finally the 600mm by 400mm robot was ready.

“It’s an autonomous robot designed to reduce human injury and cut the cost of window cleaning on mid rise commercial buildings.”

It cleverly cleans across mullions dividing windows and uses drones, motors and propellers to power it, while water and microfibre scrubbers to do the elbow grease. The final product went through rigorous prototyping, testing and evaluation to show its commercial viability and is now waiting for its full patent.

“It also has the capacity to be re-programmed for cleaning solar panels, and possibly exterior building painting, and when miniaturised it could be used in residential homes” the inventor said. The next step is to make his invention commercial. Oliver’s $15,000 target price “is the cost of cleaning a seven storey building in Sydney.”

“I have always been interested in science and engineering,” he added. “It’s an easy way to make an impact on the world in a positive way and make a product or system that can change millions of lives.”

Oliver has also won the 2018 BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Award as well as four other awards at the Pittsburgh science fair. He is now studying mechatronic engineering at UNSW. 

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