Student cleans up Intel award

James Riley
Editorial Director

Former Year 12 student from Sydney’s Barker College Oliver Nicholls has just been crowned the winner of the Gordon E. Moore Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), with a take home prize of US$75,000.

Mr Nicholls was recognised for designing and building a prototype of an autonomous flying drone-like robotic window cleaner for commercial buildings featuring rotating scrubbers and spray nozzle.

“The inspiration for the project came from school. There was a gentlemen cleaning one of the overhanging glass awnings and he actually fell off and broke his leg and around the same time a window cleaning gantry collapse happened in Sydney CBD, and it clicked that there needs to be a safer solution to this,” he told

Oliver Nicholls: Award for drone window cleaner could see him off to Stanford

“That’s when I started looking into the window cleaning industry and found four key areas of improvement: cost, liability of the employer, safety of the employee, and privacy for the tenants.”

Mr Nicholls also placed first in the Physical Sciences Robotics and Intelligent Machines category, as well as second place in both the IEEE Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Awards.

The now robotics engineering student at the University of New South Wales was one of five of Australia’s 2018 BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards finalists to secure awards at Intel ISEF, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition.

They collectively won a total of 11 major awards at the event against over 1800 high schools from 75 countries.

The other entrants from Australia included Angelina Arora from Sydney Girls High School; Caitlin Roberts from Hobart’s Friends School; Jade Moxey of Sapphire Coast Anglican College; and Macinley Butson from The Illawarra Grammar School.

The students’ participation in the Intel ISEF was part of the BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards Australian delegation, which is run and managed by CSIRO, and the Science Teachers’ Association of New South Wales Young Scientist delegation.

CSIRO Education and Outreach Director Mary Mulcahy said the awards are another example of Australia’s great science being recognised on the global stage.

“Australia is one of the best places in the world to start a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). By having our high school students winning international awards, we are further strengthening our international reputation as an innovative country,” she said.

As for what Mr Nicholls plans to do with the prize money, he sensibly said it’ll go towards his HECS, but he will also look at the opportunity of studying overseas.

“The American universities recognise this award as a pinnacle of achievements, so there’s the opportunity to potentially – once I finish my undergraduate – to do my masters at the MITs or Stanfords of this world.”

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