Machines man has an eye for new safety system
Innovative technology Machine Eye capable of preventing accidents via smart sensors
The plan is to offer Machine Eye on all new vehicles at the point of sale through a dealer network.
Brendan Digney grew up on a farm so he is attuned to the dangers farmers face when operating heavy machinery. Existing safety measures are largely passive and involve, in the main, covers and guards. Digney’s answer is Machine Eye, a pre-emptive technology that aims to prevent accidents.
“Our’s is the first system to bring modern electronics, data analytics and artificial intelligence together in a safety application for the agricultural and industrial sectors,” says Digney, who is finishing a Masters degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast.
“Coming from a farming background, I’m very familiar with the use, conditions and safety issues surrounding machines. It’s all too often you hear of yet another accident and see the devastating effect it can have on local communities. I hope Machine Eye will make things better.”
The device works by replacing conventional spotlights on machinery with a smart sensor-equipped light which is integrated into the vehicle’s control systems. The system then uses AI to track machine operator and those moving near the vehicle. If an anomaly is detected in the movement pattern – such as a person getting too close to a working machine or the possibility of something getting caught in the driveshaft – the system automatically sends an audible warning to alert the operator. If the driver doesn’t respond the system overrides the operator and stops the machine.
“The original idea came about as part of a course module we were doing at college,” says Digney. “We carried out an exercise that tracked objects around a room and calculated the distance to each. From doing this, it became evident that this basic system could easily be expanded into a more fully-fledged solution that could serve a useful purpose in industry.”
Digney’s initial plan is to offer Machine Eye on all new vehicles at the point of sale through a dealer network. It will also be possible to retrofit the device. Long term the company’s aim is to supply original equipment manufacturers. “We see Machine Eye becoming a world-wide standard in safety for farms, quarries and the construction sector, scaling rapidly from an Irish start-up to a worldwide solution,” says Digney, whose innovation has already won several honours including making to the last six of the UK-based Santander Enterprise Awards 2018.
Machine Eye was incorporated last year and employs three people. Initial development costs in hard cash is just under €20,000 but the project has also received support from Queen’s University, Catalyst (the Northern Ireland based centre for knowledge-based industries) and the NDRC. Machine Eye is being aimed at all machinery users big and small and it is going through a further development and testing phase.
The product is not expected to be commercially available until mid 2021 and the pricing is still to be determined. However, Digney says it will be competitively benchmarked against other offerings in the segment. “It’s a safety device so you can’t rush the development. We’d prefer to take a slower approach and spend the necessary time to test the device thoroughly in the rigorous environments it will be used in,” he says.
Digney is hoping the device can be manufactured in Ireland and once he has completed his post-graduate studies in a few months’ time he will focus fully on developing the business. A fundraising round is planned for later in the year.
“For safety to be truly effective it needs to be fully integrated, automatic and require no additional input from the user. It should not decrease productivity or hinder the operation of the machine and that’s what we aim to do with Machine Eye,” says Digney. “Once fitted, it doesn’t require additional steps or procedures and it’s effective across all machines without the need to modify the machine like some solutions. In short, it’s simple, effective and automatic.”