Students work with Rolls-Royce on new tech to save lives at sea

Students work with Rolls-Royce on new tech to save lives at sea

A group of students have been working with Rolls-Royce engineers to lay the foundations for a collaborative project which aims to design and develop new technologies that could save lives at sea.

Seven students at UWC Atlantic College in south Wales have been developing their ideas for new marine technologies, such as scouting drones, which could aid the search and rescue process at sea, alongside three of Rolls-Royce’s most experienced marine specialists.   

The ideas were born from the students’ personal experiences of working on the rigid hull inflatable boat (RIB) – the world’s most widely used craft for inshore rescue, developed in the 1960s by Rear-Admiral Desmond Hoare, the College’s founding principal, and tested by College students. 

The project team felt driven to come up with new solutions to aid the process, utilising their knowledge of drone (an unmanned aerial vehicle) technology and artificial intelligence (AI), after experiencing first-hand the difficulties of searching for and rescuing persons in trouble at sea during their College service and lifeguarding training programme.

UWC Atlantic College’s collaboration with Rolls-Royce is part of its commitment to forging relationships between education and industry, as the College plans to develop a new 21st century diploma pathway in collaboration with the International Baccalaureate.   

Impressed by the students’ ideas and enthusiasm, Rolls-Royce assigned a team of marine engineering specialists to collaborate with the students and help transform their ideas into reality.

Simon O’Connor, a marine engineer in Rolls-Royce’s naval business, Bernard Twomey, regulatory development lead (marine), and Don Murray, senior vice president (manufacturing), travelled to St Donat’s Castle in south Wales, to work with some of the students to develop systematic approaches to solving problems faced by search and rescue teams at sea. 

Each year, over 360 students from more than 90 different countries spend ’Project Week’ participating in co-curricular and experiential activities as part of their UWC education programme.

Erol Balkovic, 18, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a second year student involved with the project said: “In our first year at UWC Atlantic College, we had the opportunity to experience real search and rescue missions aboard the RIB. 

"It can be incredibly hard to find what, or who, you are looking for in those conditions.  One of our ideas revolves around the idea that technology can essentially become the eyes and ears of a search and rescue team, pinpointing the location of a person or boat in trouble and making the entire process more efficient.  This could help save lives otherwise lost at sea.

“This mentoring opportunity with Rolls-Royce allowed us to develop our ideas.  It was an eye-opening session for us, and we cannot wait for the next one.”

The day included discussion around topics such as automation and physics.  The group also considered the materials and manufacturing processes that could be utilised when turning their ideas into physical products.

Simon O’Connor said: “We’ve worked with students at some of the UK’s top universities focused on marine engineering and naval architecture. 

"The ideas, problem-solving approaches, and knowledge of these students at UWC Atlantic College is akin to what we would expect to see at undergraduate level, and in some instances, even postgraduate level. 

Don Murray, who is one of the Rolls-Royce’s STEM Ambassadors in the UK, said: “They think without boundaries – nothing seems unachievable – and their enthusiasm for the subject is extraordinary.

"If this level of skill and work ethic can be demonstrated in a college environment, then these individuals will certainly excel as they progress to third-level education.

Bernard Twomey added: “Many of their ideas are unique, completely new to the industry.  It was a pleasure to help them take those ideas further, and we are looking forward to seeing how the collaborative project unfolds.”

Commenting on the project, Peter T Howe, principal of UWC Atlantic College said: “From the development of the RIB all those years ago, to the potentially ground-breaking ideas coming from the students on this project, UWC Atlantic College has a rich history of contributing to lifesaving at sea. 

"These students have been passionately involved in co-curricular activities such the lifeguarding course we run alongside the RNLI – our students can be found safeguarding nine beaches across Wales in the summer – and it’s great to see them taking those experiences to the next level.”

UWC Atlantic College was founded in 1962 by Kurt Hahn, a renowned German educationalist.  Its approach to learning is based around three simple principles – innovation, opportunity and outreach – which it strongly believes makes education a force for good in the world.

Rolls-Royce is committed to advancing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects among the engineers of tomorrow.  Its work with UWC Atlantic College forms just one part of its ambition to reach six million young people by 2020.