We have many reasons to celebrate the success of Igor Ribeiro Ferreira and his team at Interchange 2022. Team 17, led by Igor, came first in this virtual challenge, with an idea for an app, Wake Me Up, that could one day save lives on our roads. Plus, the five team members, who are students from leading universities in New South Wales, had the opportunity to interact with each other and draw on their expertise across a range of disciplines. For Igor, it also allowed him to apply the knowledge gained in his studies in Public Health at Torrens University to address a major issue for Australian drivers.
What is Interchange 2022?
‘Interchange is an entrepreneurship and innovation program for university students, run by Study NSW, supported by the New South Wales Government, in collaboration with some of the country's most influential universities,’ Igor explains. ‘Over the five-week challenge, 35 teams and up to 300 participants have to develop an innovative solution for real-life problems related to sustainability, smart cities, or the future of work, for example. Or you can choose a passion project if your idea doesn't fit any of the categories.’
The winning project of Interchange 2022
‘We developed a smartwatch and smartphone app called Wake Me Up, which has the potential to prevent fatigue-related road accidents,’ Igor says. ‘Micro sleeping is when your body experiences short periods of unconsciousness, and it's one of the first stages of falling asleep. We all experience sleepiness and sometimes you'll simply ignore it and keep going. However, that can be extremely dangerous while driving.
Igor's Winning Idea, 'Wake Me Up'
‘Wake Me Up uses an artificial intelligence technology called machine learning that analyses heart-rate patterns and blood-oxygen levels during different stages – awake, falling asleep and asleep. It will indicate if a driver is about to experience micro-sleeping. When the AI detects micro sleeping, and according to the app’s settings, the driver's health data and real-time location are shared with emergency contacts, such as a family member or a friend.
‘If the driver has opted to share their health data with an emergency contact, that person can call the driver and persuade them to stop and rest. This is one of the most important features of the app. We also developed privacy policies, to show our future customers that we take privacy seriously and that none of the health data would be shared with anyone.
‘In addition to alerting the contacts, when the algorithms detect tiredness, the app will suggest the nearest place for the driver to rest, such as service stations, cafes, motels, and resting areas.’
To find out more about Team 17’s clever and potentially life-saving idea, you can watch their YouTube video.
What inspired this idea Interchange 2022?
‘I remember passing by a road accident and that led to this idea,’ says Igor. ‘As I have a research background, I am always keen to find answers to questions that most people don't think to ask. ‘After seeing the accident, I started to consider the very basic idea of using mobile technology to diminish the incidence of road fatalities. Then, after researching the main causes of road fatalities, I found out that the second most prevalent reason is fatigue. As I already understand the biological process that the body passes through from awake to asleep, I recognised an opportunity to use smartwatches to monitor heart rate and blood-oxygen levels, since these devices have in-built electrocardiograms and blood or oxygen sensors.’
‘So we worked it as a group to shape a really basic idea into a final winning project.’
Combining a molecular biology and genetics degree with a Public Health postgraduate
‘I graduated in molecular biology and genetics, and my postgrad studies in Public Health complement my academic background. Now, as I’ve come to understand the public health system and how health policies are developed and why I have a different perspective on diseases. In my undergraduate degree, I was looking at diseases as molecular organisms. I was studying what happens when you get infected by a virus, for example, instead of developing strategies to prevent the infection in the first place.
‘Through the Graduate Diploma of Public Health, my perspective has shifted to a more local and global scale; I now look at some environmental and economic factors as ways to understand the causes of diseases, for example. The two fields – Public Health and molecular biology – complement each other, and it has been really interesting to discover this.
‘The main reason I chose to study Public Health following my undergrad studies was so I could learn about the economics of health, ways to promote good health, and to understand how inequalities and inequities in public health systems increase the burden of diseases. This was especially the case during COVID when the poor people in my country, Brazil, had so many problems. I like to understand how everything works, and my Public Health studies help me to do this.’
Igor’s advice for Public Health students
‘From my Interchange experience, I would tell everyone to leave their comfort zone. I have always worked on projects primarily focused on health, and I have only collaborated with professionals with a health background. Interchange 2022 was an opportunity to leave my comfort zone, apply my health and research expertise to solve real-life problems with an entrepreneurial approach, and work with a multidisciplinary team. Over the five weeks, I had the chance to learn about business and criminology, and even marketing concepts related to music and arts. I could also improve my communication and leadership skills and come to deeply understand the interpersonal dynamics within a professional multidisciplinary team.
‘The Interchange organisers allocated us to our teams, and I was put into a group of people who came from diverse technical backgrounds. I'm studying public health, and I was collaborating with people studying music and sound design, criminology and criminal justice, business administration and commerce. This exciting mix was guided by our mentor, Debbie Roberts. Debbie is a business consultant and analyst, and she's brilliant. She guided us through the ways we should brainstorm ideas, who should be the leader and that kind of thing. It was great.
‘All this happened just by leaving my comfort zone and making myself open to a new challenge and different perspectives. Because everybody in the group came from different backgrounds, we were looking at that same problem differently. For me, that was very interesting.’
The future of the Wake Me Up app
‘We already have some business investors that are interested in the idea, and let's see what the future holds for us. I think the Wake Me Up app has the potential to really prevent road accidents.’
Igor, congratulations to you and the other members of Team 17, from the staff and students at Torrens. We’re looking forward to seeing where your career in Public Health and interdisciplinary collaborations takes you next.