12 of the best innovations and discoveries from 2018

By Melbourne School of Engineering

What’s your chance of survival in a zombie apocalypse? Could soybean by-products be the key to unlocking the next healthcare breakthrough? What would be the implications of a world where artificial intelligence could read your emotional state and assess the best and worst parts of your personality?

These types of questions may not be ones that people would generally associate with engineering and information systems, but 2018 saw staff and students from across the breadth of Melbourne School of Engineering tackle these and many more. Here are twelve we think were some of the coolest, most exciting, or just plain interesting from the past year.

1. How AI is using facial recognition to decipher your personality

Biometric mirror interface

The power of artificial intelligence and the ethics of combining biometrics with algorithms was laid bare in July 2018 with an installation that was simultaneously intriguing and confronting. Designed as part of a research project led by Dr Niels Wouters from Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces (SocialNUI), the Biometric Mirror was a unique and engaging way to examine the flaws and limitations of profiling using biometric data and artificial intelligence.

2. AIMES world-first transport technology trial

If you’ve travelled near the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus recently, chances are you’ve been right in the middle of one of the world’s most exciting transport ecosystems – the Australian Integrated Multimodal EcoSystem’s (AIMES) vast network of smart sensors connecting all parts of the transport environment within a six square kilometre grid on the streets of inner-city Carlton. In July 2018 AIMES, led by Professor Majid Sarvi, marked a significant milestone with their world-first trial of connected transport technology, representing an important step towards the development of an interconnected system allowing computers to detect and prevent traffic problems and accidents without relying on human intervention.

3. Repairing the Murray-Darling Basin

100 years of degradation is a lot to try and repair, but in 2018 the Murray-Darling Basin Plan showed signs of yielding positive results, including mass spawnings of golden perch in Victoria’s Goulburn River. Dr Angus Webb explained to Pursuit why this and other events were such significant positive signs of the Basin’s improving health.

4. Using virtual reality to treat real-world injuries

The words ‘virtual reality’ may conjure up images of gaming and entertainment more readily than injury prevention and management for most people, but for one team of researchers an exciting new tool is allowing them to take how they measure and understand human movement to the next level. The Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN) is the first of its kind in Australia, and is allowing advancements in everything from effectiveness of implants and prosthesics to improving the performance of elite athletes.

5. The hard science behind surviving a zombie attack

Are you better off in a high density city or somewhere more remote when the zombie apocalypse gets underway? Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety (CDMPS) Deputy Director Professor Greg Foliente and Dr Yiquen Chen applied their spatial modelling expertise to determine exactly how a zombie outbreak would play out in cities across Australia and New Zealand.

6. Ceramic particles make plastic cladding fire-resistant

2017’s Grenfell Tower disaster, in which over 70 people lost their lives when flammable cladding caused a devastating fire in a London apartment building, left building owners scrambling to remove dangerous cladding from their own buildings with expensive or overly heavy replacements the only option. Many had tried to create an inexpensive and lightweight cladding material in the past but in 2018 Dr Kate Nguyen had a breakthrough, developing an ingenious cladding inspired by electrical cable insulation.

7. Data privacy and power

Online privacy was thrust to the forefront of public discussion in 2018 with a number of revelations around inappropriately used or protected user data by some of the world’s biggest companies. Writing in the wake of the now infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal, Associate Professor Vanessa Teague and Dr Chris Culnane made the case for an online environment with more user control and much less data collection.

8. How could soybeans help heal diabetic ulcers?

Soy bean plants at sunrise

Game-changing health solutions may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the word soybeans, but one team of researchers believes this plant could hold the key to creating an effective hydrogel treatment for diabetic ulcers, with the added benefit of giving farmers an added revenue stream from soybean by-products.

9. How do we grow Australia’s eSports industry?

Picture: Getty Images

Competitive video gaming has developed into a flourishing and lucrative industry, but is Australia poised to make the most of it? Networked Society Institute’s David Cumming and Robbie Fordyce and School of Computing and Information Systems Associate Professor Martin Gibbs took a look at this burgeoning industry and what Australia needs to do to make sure it’s in the game.

10. Engineering and IT students showcase their futuristic innovations

Window washing drone on table

For sheer volume of ingenious inventions and innovations, nothing in 2018 came close to the Endeavour Exhibition. Featuring projects created by students from all across engineering and information technology at the University, this wonderful event had everything from drone window washers to watermelon ripeness detectors.

11. Smart socks send data to your physiotherapist

One of the year’s most exciting innovations were some socks that were quite a bit smarter than your average footwear. PhD candidate Deepti Aggarwal developed these smart socks, wearable technology that provides physiotherapists real-time information on a patient’s lower body movements, to enable patients and doctors work on assessment and treatment from anywhere in the world.

12. New project aims to improve life for mobility-impaired people

woman in wheelchair with dog in autumn nature.

A novel sensor technology to help mobility-impaired people safely navigate their environment with a custom mobile app is interesting enough in its own right, but SenseSEE was also one of the first projects to participate in the University’s first ever crowdfunding initiative, FUNDER@Melbourne.

So what’s ahead in 2019? We can’t be sure, but if it’s anything like last year it’s going to be an exciting and unpredictable ride full of incredible discoveries set to change the world. Got a prediction? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!