Sydney and Perth schools tackle playground waste and clean up with first prize in ANSTO’s hackathon


Students from Heathcote High School in Sydney and Kent Street Senior High School in Perth have landed first place in the annual Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) National Science Week 2023 Hackathon.

Since 2020, the virtual competition has brought together secondary schools from across the country to participate in a sprint-style event, where students are presented with an abstract challenge and collectively brainstorm creative and diverse ideas to design a real-world product or solution.

This month, 23 teams from across 15 secondary schools took to the task of the National Science Week theme – Innovation: Powering Future Industries – using Artificial Intelligence and ANSTO’s own SPOT robotic dog to devise a way to simplify school tasks.

Despite being 4,000 kilometres apart, tackling playground waste was the main drawcard for senior division winners, Heathcote, and junior division winners, Kent Street, with both schools designing a mountable payload for SPOT that could identify and collect rubbish through artificial learning and specially designed robotic arms.

ANSTO’s Discovery Centre Team Leader, Rod Dowler commended the winning teams’ creativity to come up with innovative and science-based solutions to common, modern-day problems.

“While only in its fourth year, the Hackathon has quickly become one of our most popular events in our education program line-up, connecting students from all corners of the country and engaging the next generation of scientists,” Mr Dowler said.

“This year’s panel of judges were impressed by the high calibre of entries from students, made even more impressive by their young age and exceptional understanding of complex science and technology.

“The Hackathon aims to elevate science from beyond the pages of school textbooks. It gives students hands-on experience to showcase their science prowess and innovation, and be inspired to turn their creativity into reality.

“In this case, it was investigating a practical way to use man’s best friend – or a Boston Dynamics robot dog, SPOT – to make the lives of students, staff, and cleaners easier and improve the school’s general wellbeing.

“Both Heathcote and Kent Street have been strong contenders in the Hackathon challenge over the years, so it’s inspiring to see them claim victory after a run of landing the runner-up and finalists spots.”

During the Hackathon event, school teams interact with scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to receive feedback and advice on their ideas and design prototypes. As part of the virtual event, teams then submit a short video showcasing their innovative ideas and designs for judging by a panel of scientists.

In the runner-up place, Perth school St John Bosco College took out the senior division for their concept on using SPOT to sanitise schoolrooms and reduce sick days, and Davidson High School in Sydney claimed the junior division for deploying SPOT to aid students in medical incidents or playground accidents.

/Public Release. View in full here.