Deakin empowers high-tech wireless partnership

16 March 2015

A Deakin-industry collaboration has made the first batch of Research Connections grants.

Most Australians would not have heard of a ZigBee wireless mesh network, but the technology is set to play an increasing role in modern life - and can have life-saving applications.

As one of the latest developments in wireless network technology, it is finding increasing applications in areas ranging from home entertainment, to smart street lighting, to health monitoring, to emergency lighting.

A collaboration between Deakin Engineering and IT, and Australia’s leading power solutions provider MPower is using ZigBee wireless technology to create an innovative emergency lighting management system, Wi Net RF, that is set to benefit organisations across Australia.

Whether it be hospitals, universities, factories, retail centres or offices, the technology has the potential to save organisations thousands of dollars, whilst improving the reliability and integrity of their emergency lighting systems – potentially saving lives when fires, accidents or natural disasters occur.

According to the Building Code of Australia, certain classes of buildings, including office buildings, shops, carparks, health-care buildings, school buildings, aged-care buildings, among others, are required to have emergency and exit lighting.

The project is one of the first ten to be funded through the Federal Government’s new Research Connections program, which aims to promote innovation by supporting partnerships between industry and research providers.

Associate Professor Abbas Kouzani from Deakin’s School of Engineering, who is an expert in design and implementation of microsystems solutions, explained that the mesh network technology is one of the most reliable solutions for the development of smart wireless monitoring systems.

“The system offers a low cost wireless mesh network platform in which node failure and signal interference are managed through the self-healing property of the ZigBee technology,” Prof Kouzani said.

“It provides a reliable approach for real-time fault detection in MPower’s exit and emergency lighting devices. The devices talk to one another, and if one device goes down, the communication messages are rerouted through neighbouring devices within the network.”

MPower’s wireless system operates at a lower frequency than the standard monitoring systems, reducing the chance of interference with mobile and other standard wireless devices, and allowing the signal to have better penetration through barriers such as thick concrete walls, hence enhancing the network’s reliability, according to Prof Kouzani. He and Prof Yong Xiang of Deakin’s School of IT have been working together to help MPower design the network.

MPower’s Product Manager, Randy Low, added that the system would be more reliable and robust than current monitoring methods because it “features continual central automated monitoring that detects faults or low batteries as soon as they appear - and removes any chance of maintenance short cuts being taken by individual enterprises.”

Deakin and MPower began collaborating on the project in 2010 when MPower saw the potential of automated monitoring technology for easing the costly and time consuming burden of enterprises having to manually check all battery-backed exit and emergency lights every six months, as required by Australian law.

“We knew that technology could simplify this process, but we weren’t exactly sure how to go about it,” said Mr Low.

Established in 1984, MPower is one of Australia’s leaders in the fields of energy storage, power conversion and back-up solutions. It has branches in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and supplies over 500 distribution outlets. It is also known for innovation, having won a number of awards for design, engineering, business and export performance.

“As a medium sized company, we sometimes face challenges in acquiring the knowledge and technology that we need to achieve what we want, so we reached out to Deakin,” said Mr Low.

“It was a challenge for us to get to that level of understanding and it was a challenge to find the right people, but the Deakin researchers have been a pleasure to work with.”

Prof Kouzani said Deakin has a long history of partnering with industry to deliver real world outcomes. “We are always looking for practical problems that can challenge us, seeking to create solutions that can give a competitive lead to our local industry, and which provide our students with industrial exposure opportunities, and, more importantly, to contribute to activities that generate new jobs in our community,” he said.

In fact, the collaboration has already led to full-time employment for Deakin Geelong student, Edin Bektasevic, who began working on the collaborative project during his bachelor degree and is now improving evacuation safety as a System Design Engineer with MPower.

Small to medium enterprises interested in collaborating with Deakin can contact Andrew Rau, Industry Engagement and Commercialisation Manager, Deakin Research Commercial, on tel: 5227 1129.

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From left: Deakin Research Fellow Quan-Zen Ang, Mpower's Mr Edin Bektasevic and Mr Randy Low, and Deakin's Associate Professor Abbas Kouzani. From left: Deakin Research Fellow Quan-Zen Ang, Mpower's Mr Edin Bektasevic and Mr Randy Low, and Deakin's Associate Professor Abbas Kouzani.

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