Londoner Jeremy Zolnai-Lucas was doing his gap year in New Zealand and needed a job.
The 19-year-old had moved from Auckland to Hamilton and, as luck would have it, a couple of Waikato University computer scientists needed a research programmer.
Dr Judy Bowen and Associate Professor Annika Hinze, along with Professor Rangi Matamua from the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, are devising a technological way to keep forestry workers safer on the job.
The research team has MBIE Smart Ideas funding for their project called Tini o te Hakituri and with WorkSafe New Zealand they’ve been holding hui in Northland with workers from Lloyd Logging, Johnson Training Services Ltd and Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust. These are facilitated by Erina Korohina from the Centre for Health in Tauranga.
Jeremy’s task was to design and programme a portable, wearable device that could collect data from sensors measuring such things as heart rate, sweating and step count. The device needed to be small but able to both store and analyse data out in the field. It also needed to be able to upload the data whenever the wearer was within range of a Bluetooth receiver or WiFi.
Jeremy says he felt a bit underqualified to start with, but he had been in a young engineers group in the UK, where he designed a semi-autonomous robot that could detect unexploded incendiary devices. “It was moderately successful, but didn’t always work!” he says.
He’s learned a lot working on the Hakituri project, including making a 3D printer case, and building a customised printed circuit board. “What’s more my device works,” he says. “It contains a rechargeable battery and is small enough to fit on a belt or in a pocket. I’m pretty pleased with the result.”
Dr Bowen says Jeremy proved to be a real asset to the team with an innovative and self-motivated approach to problem solving. “For someone who was new to the university, within about a week he had made all sorts of useful connections and knew exactly where to go or who to ask for anything from an Interloan research paper to a soldering iron.”
Jeremy leaves New Zealand this week to return to the UK where he’s enrolled at Cambridge University to study engineering.
"We wish him well with his studies at Cambridge," Dr Bowen says. "But we hope he feels like coming back for some summer work during his semester breaks."