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Unearthed Brisbane breaks the hackathon mould

More than eighty local developers competed in resource hackathon Unearthed Brisbane over the weekend, an event that diverged from typical startup competitions with set industry and government challenges.

Hosted by River City Labs but run by RIIT, Unearthed Brisbane launched the Perth organisation’s national program and focused on operational issues facing the resource industry, such as coal degradation and rock crushers using 4% of the earth’s electrical energy.

“We see a lot of trends to improve operational efficiencies,” Unearthed director Justin Strharsky said. “By actually understanding what’s happening in the field in real time, by being able to visualise data in better ways, [and] by being able to predict what’s likely to happen before it does.”

Challenges were provided by the QLD Department of Natural Resources and Mines (1), BMA Coal (2, 3 & 4), and WestTrac & Amazon Web Services (5):

  1. Next Generation Resource Data API (creating a new resource for geological datasets)
  2. 3D Stockpile Monitoring & Visualisation (tracking and monitoring coal data within a stockpile i.e. coal age, grade, and location)
  3. Real Time Particle Size Distribution Analysis (measuring and monitoring coal particle sizes before the crusher, and creating feedback loops to improve crushing efficiency)
  4. Real Time Drill Rig Operations Tracking (monitoring and recording rig operations in real time)
  5. WesTrac/AWS Predictive Maintenance using Oil Samples (improving the oil analysis interpretation process and using oil sample test data to better understand, track, and predict future maintenance events)
Plans for Stockpilr's coal monitoring and visualisation platform. Images: StartupQLD and Chris Woods.

Plans for Stockpilr’s coal monitoring and visualisation platform. Images: StartupQLD and Chris Woods.

Unlike the increasingly popular and largely uniform Startup Weekend competitions, Unearthed Brisbane forced developers to consider issues outside their wheelhouse, and made the typical startup requirements of finding problems and markets moot.

“Developers need to be challenged, they want to be challenged, because it’s really rewarding to push the boundaries and go outside their comfort zone,” River City Labs’ Peta Ellis said. “Startup Weekend has been done a few times before so people know what they’re in for, whereas this is a really different model. So it’s getting them to really think outside the square.”

Unlike Amazon Web Services and the Dept. of Natural Resources and Mines, BMA Coal did not provide data sets for its challenges. Stockpilr member Caleb Hattingh worked on BMA’s stockpile challenge, and while his team developed a working prototype he had a complaint that, “they’ve encouraged us to invent data that would be typical for an industry we are not in”.

The competition resulted in technically similar but distinctly focused platforms, with prototypes ranging from data tracking and visualisation software to thermal intelligence classification.

With entries judged on their creativity, viability, ease and potential impact, Smart Lumps (pictured at top) won for their unique solution to the stockpile challenge: mixing wifi-enabled sensors into the pile, where they can monitor coal data until being extracted magnetically at the washplant.

The Smart Lumps team seemed eager to continue working on their idea, and mentioned the possibility of running trials at QLD coal sites. They won the chance to present as part of Australia’s largest mining conference, Austmine Tech Conference, later today, as well as $1,500 cash and $3,000 in AWS credit.

Strharsky said that last year’s winner Newton Labs, which was also accepted into Unearthed’s accelerator program, will have a market-ready product in roughly six months.

“They focused on a $100 million problem in WA, and probably a billion problem worldwide; preventing large boulders from blocking up the crusher, which is a serious cause of downtime on hardrock mining operations,” Strharsky said.

This was the first time an Unearthed event was held outside Perth, and the national program will continue in Sydney and Melbourne later this year.

About Chris Woods

Chris Woods (@tophermwoods) is the Tech Street Journal's Editor-in-Chief. He lives in Brisbane, has worked in places like Sydney and New York (State of), and will someday update his media-news blog.