Pike River tragedy inspires robot

21:21, May 15 2014
IN ACTION: The robot that Vandan Patel, 16, built to go into mines and earthquake rubble to assess conditions and find trapped people.

Teen inventor Vandan Patel's first foray into robotics was inspired by the Pike River mine disaster.

The 16-year-old student at ACG Parnell College in Auckland saw the desperate need for robotic help after the tragedy and created Project TYKE, a robot to go into collapsed mines and earthquake rubble.

"I saw that there were four robots ordered from Australia but they cost about $200,000 each so New Zealand didn't have any when the disaster happened."

 Vandan Patel
BRIGHT SPARK: Vandan Patel, 16, was inspired to build a robot after the Pike River Mine disaster and now he is vying for the Thiel Fellowship which fosters young creative minds from around the world and their unique projects.

He says his model is cheaper, smaller and disposable, meaning it can be left underground. The robot is designed to go into mines or earthquake rubble to find life. It measures the atmosphere to see if it's safe and maps out the location of people - living and dead. The information is transmitted wirelessly back to rescuers.

Vandan has tested his robot on construction sites and is keen to meet with earthquake authorities to see if they think his prototype would work in a real emergency situation.

It is the first time he has tackled such a project.


"To be honest I hadn't done anything on hardware. I hadn't done any robotics or anything. I was doing more software and apps but using that, some physics we learnt at school and stuff on the internet I was able to make it."

Vandan is one of 45 bright minds from around the world to make it to the final selection process of the Thiel Fellowship which gives $100,000 USD over two years to two fellows.

Peter Thiel is well known in Silicon Valley. He co-founded PayPal, was the first outside investor into Facebook and now sits on Facebook's board.

Vandan says experts from Auckland University and overseas have gone above and beyond to help him.

"I was emailing this guy from San Francisco who runs a software company that does image recognition, so you can get a photo and see whose face it is, and basically after I told him about my project he told me to apply for the fellowship."

The Avondale resident says going through the final selection process in the United States in April was inspiring.

Regardless of the outcome he plans to keep building innovative gadgets, he says.

"I like to create humanitarian robotics and technologies that help people."

The fellowship results will be announced on June 1.

East And Bays Courier