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UC students win hackathon challenge, enable wider support for frontliners

Libby Roberts

24 April 2020: Conceptualising an Advanced Face Shield to protect frontliners in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Canberra students Bryce Cronin and Jed Hodson recently won in the Protecting Vulnerable Peoples Challenge of the Australian Computer Society’s (ACS) Flatten The Curve Hackathon.

Mr Cronin [Bachelor of Engineering in Network and Software Engineering (Honours)] and Mr Hodson [Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)] came up with their design in just 48 hours. The hackathon saw 2,400 competitors in 200 teams from around the world compete in just five categories.

The idea came about when they both saw on the news that people had been 3D printing medical face shields to address shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in hospitals.

“Many of us in the UC Engineering Society own 3D printers, but because they are budget printers, they are really small – so there isn’t enough room to print the face shield designs being made around the world right now” said Mr Cronin, who is the society President.

“Jed and I really wanted to help out however we could – and if our printers couldn’t fit the existing design, the only answer was to come up with a new design.”

They ended up creating a range of different face shield versions to suit different international standards, as well as different assembly methods.

“It all depends on the tools you have, and the good thing is that our design can fit onto smaller 3D printers – so that more people can pitch in and help.”

Mr Cronin noted that in many developing countries, smaller 3D printers were more common, making their design more easily transferable even internationally.

They created prototype after prototype, till they found the perfect design at 2am – when the plastic sheet stayed on. Mr Cronin and Mr Hodson then created a video illustrating their project.

After that though, the creative process resumed – they refined and differentiated the designs further, even though that couldn’t fit the time limit set for the video.

“The front plastic shield is created using a hole punch – but hole punch size standards are different around the world, so we created designs for Europe (the standards apply to most counties), Sweden, and North America,” Mr Cronin said.

“Jed then created a design that is laser cut, which significantly cuts down production time – from over an hour to around one minute. We didn’t have the time to test this design, but Jed is currently working on it.”

“Jed was instrumental in creating the video and creating the alternate design for different assembly methods, and we wouldn’t have won without him,” Mr Cronin added.

The designs are now available free to download and ready to print from any 3D printer around the world. They have already had 80 people download their designs – but their work doesn’t stop there.

“We won $5,000 at the Hackathon, and I know we are going to use a bit of it to help manufacture the designs we have made and buy some 3D printer filament to start printing some designs for the local community,” Mr Cronin said.

“The Canberra DIY 3D Printing Group is helping us get our designs verified by medical experts – they've been the main force behind printing and distributing face shields in the Canberra region, as far as I know, and they have been very helpful in providing feedback for our prototype designs. If they do get them verified, and there is a lot of demand, we are going to print as many as we can and get as many people at UC as possible to help.”

Making the win even more meaningful is the special significance that hackathons hold for the UC Engineering Society – a hackathon formed the backdrop for its creation in 2017.

“The UC Engineering Society was formed at the 2017 GovHack hackathon,” Mr Cronin said.

“I met a bunch of other UC students that night and we went on to form the Engineering Society. So I guess hackathons have always been a big part of who we are – and a great way to meet people, get involved in the community and test your skills.”''

Click here to download Bryce and Jed's face shield designs.