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North Tyneside company uses its expertise to help save the planet

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Engineers Hua Khee Chan Taken and Andrew Ambrose-Thurman at Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD).

The region was proudly represented at a recent international event in Sarawak, Malaysia attended by some of the world’s most innovative and creative minds with the aim of trying to find solutions to a host of global environmental and conservation challenges.

The two engineers, Andrew Ambrose-Thurman and Hua Khee Chan both from Wallsend-based pioneering subsea and engineering company, Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD), took part in “Make for the Planet Borneo” which was hosted by Conservation X Labs at the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress event.

The gathering brought together 15 teams consisting of some of the world’s leading engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, coders, makers, and creative thinkers to help solve global conservation challenges.

Andrew and Hua Khee acted as ‘virtual’ mentors to a number of the 15 teams as they cast their specialist eye over the varying ideas. They took part through Skype workshops from their Wallsend offices passing over their constructive advice across cyberspace.

The challenges were released in advance of the event with the successful teams travelling to Borneo to make a prototype of their idea. They later refined the prototype with help from a cadre of mentors and field leaders, and then presented their idea to a panel of International Marine Conservation Congress judges.

Here are just some of the many wonderful conservation ideas that Andrew and Hua Khee helped to develop during the international event. They included:

Coral Reef Mapping Drone – designing equipment to map coral reefs at high resolution, speed of capture, positioning, low cost and repeatability at a time when the oceans are at high risk from pollution.

Ocean Orchards – to create new large scale fish habitat with lanes for fishing boats, in order to make millions of tonnes of new fish in response to global fish stocks being in decline over the past decade.

Garbage Star – a low cost tool that grows fish and collects discarded plastics at the same time.

Plank of Cameras – high resolution cameras made from mobile phone parts for measuring plastic in rivers.

Andrew and Hua Khee work as part of SMD’s XPrize project team. SMD is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of remote intervention equipment, operating in hazardous environments worldwide with offices in the UK, Singapore and China. The company aims to provide the best technically and financially viable engineering solutions on a global scale.

Andrew Ambrose-Thurman, Software Controls Engineer – Innovation at Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD), said: “It was really interesting being able to talk to the various international teams and discuss their inventive ideas.

“There are many people around the world who are skilled in finding novel solutions to problems and challenges currently facing our planet today. Many of which most people will never have heard about in their everyday life. Conservation X Labs gives a fantastic opportunity to bring these two together – giving people problems to solve that will actually make a difference to the world that we live in.

“It’s gratifying for SMD to be asked to mentor these very skilled and inventive people and being able to contribute with our knowledge and experience in a way that can one day better the planet.”

Hua Khee Chan is an employee of Newcastle University, who works in Team Tao, a Shell Ocean Discovery XPrize finalist, sponsored by SMD and Newcastle University, said: “SMD and Newcastle University are happy to empower the next generation of innovators, allowing Andrew and myself to educate fellow innovators, whether they are professionals or hobbyists. This is done in the hope of creating the next ground-breaking disruptive technologies that will change the world.

“The Make for the Planet Borneo event is designed specifically for global conservation challenges, which is something new and exciting. I genuinely believe by fusing ideas generated by people from various technical backgrounds, we are able to come up with a disruptive innovation that makes our world a better place to live.”

Barbara Martinez, Open Innovation Director at Conservation X Labs and Make for the Planet Borneo’s lead organiser, said: “Make the Planet Borneo produced a number of compelling and viable innovations for the field of oceans conservation. Those ideas would not have been possible without our incredible multidisciplinary teams and the help of such experienced and dedicated mentors. Andrew and Hua Khee played an integral role by providing their technical expertise, guiding Make for the Planet Borneo teams, and helping turn concepts into physical prototypes.

“Conservation X Labs is grateful for their contributions to the field of conservation technology through Make for the Planet Borneo. We recognise that our conservation problems are difficult, and we need to work with experts beyond the conservation sciences to create real and scalable solutions.”