Nah Yeah Buoy success for Victoria University of Wellington Design students

School of Design students Hannah Tilsley and Chamonix Stuart have been awarded a place in the global 2019 James Dyson Award for a water safety system designed to prevent drownings due to rip currents.

The Nah Yeah Buoy can detect a rip and change colour, depending on the danger posed by the rip. The pair have used 3D printing and arduino technology to develop the buoy, and have beaten out over 1,000 designers from 27 countries to make it into the top 20.

All James Dyson Award entries must solve a problem. Chamonix says, “I looked into issues New Zealand faced, and discovered that people who are coming onto our island on holiday may not be aware of rips. I discovered that rips were the third highest cause of accidental death, and that 80 percent of all lifeguard rescues are related to rips.”

The designers met in a Design School class lectured by Jeongbin Ok, called Mass Production + Digital Manufacturing. Both go to Coromandel on holiday, and both have had heart-in-mouth moments watching swimmers in trouble on the beaches.

A number of the LED light-bearing buoys are placed in a grid system in the water and work by radio frequency, collecting waterflow data and relaying it back to an app used by lifeguards. The colours are inspired by traffic lights—green means go, orange means caution, red means avoid the area. Hannah says, “When you see the grid-like system and the lights, it teaches people what the water currents look like.

“If you are standing on the beach and thinking ‘Why is that area red, and why is that area green? What is the difference between the areas?’, with a sign explaining the system, that is combining education with prevention of drownings.”

For every problem, there are many solutions, and Chamonix came up with six concepts, before narrowing the design down to a buoy. “You see buoys all the time in the water, so they aren’t distracting people from the beauty of the beach,” Hannah says.

Once their design was final, the form of the buoy came together in two weeks, and they started 3D printing as soon as it was confirmed. They created their electronics at the same time, and then began testing. “We tested a lot of sensors to see what the right one was. We ultimately went with a water flow sensor, because neither the flex sensor nor the pressure sensor were waterproof,” Hannah says.

The Nah Yeah Buoy app allows lifeguards to change the buoys for emergencies, such as a shark sighting, to allow a quick response from beach-goers.

Hannah and Chamonix don’t yet have funding to carry on their research, though if they are judged by the James Dyson Awards to be  runners-up in the worldwide competition, they will receive $9,000. If they win the entire competition, they will receive $55,000, plus $9,000 for their university.

Both students are in their final year of study, and would like to develop the buoy further, given time and resource. Hannah says, “It would be a shame for it to stop where it is because of funding. We would like to take it further.”