Pouring their hearts into preventing landslide deaths

Hard at work: Iwana (right) and her students are developing an early warning system prototype for landslide detection. She says the students sacrifice their weekends to work on the project.

KOTA KINABALU: For the past few months, SMK Kolombong teacher Iwana Ivy Abdullah and her small group of students have been staying back in school for a very important project.

Sacrificing rest time and energy, Iwana and her students, aged between 13 and 15, have been developing a prototype that could help detect abnormalities in the movement of the earth just before a landslide occurs.

“Named Project LDTec, this is probably the first of its kind to be developed in a school or in ‘real’ industries,” she said in an interview.

Iwana said the idea to develop a landslide detection system came following a suggestion from her principal Dr Justin Rumpod.

“We were figuring out what can be done for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) project.

“The idea also came after realising that the risk of a landslide is just steps away near one of the school blocks, as well as the tragic incident in Batang Kali,” she said.

(During the tragedy last December, 18 adults and 13 children died when a landslide hit a campsite with about 100 people at Father’s Organic Farm).

Project LDTec is designed as part of a Duta Guru programme under the state Education Department and PETRONAS Foundation, in collaboration with Teach For Malaysia as the guide and educator using engineering design process.

Iwana is the Duta Guru in the programme.

When the idea was formed and finalised, Iwana’s next step was to approach students whom she felt were right for the project and those who could make time and commit to work on it.

She also worked with partners like Kinabalu Coders to create the system and dashboard where their mentor Julfadzly Muhaimin taught the students coding, system development and related knowledge.

They used Internet of Things (IOT) for the whole project and had guidance from Iwana’s engineer husband to make the prototype.

Iwana said there were two phases to the prototype, one using the most basic electrical items including wires and sensors that could be found, among other things, in motion sensor toys.

As expected, she said the first prototype had many faults and required several rounds of trial and error, but they are now developing a better and more advanced model named the V2.

The students in her current team comprise Nuraryana Jamal, 14; Sarlenna Len Kon Chun, 15; Amir Hamza Abdullah, 14; Shenelson Silverius, 13; Rico Ricardo, 13; and Muhd Hazrul Ruzan, 14.

“They sometimes sacrifice their weekends to work on the project,” added Iwana.

Nuraryana said some of the challenges they faced while making the prototype were the kind of materials to use and how to make their miniature hill and other models stable.

As for coders Rico and Hazrul, their challenges were Internet connection and developing the right codes for the system.

It took the team several attempts to create the right model and right system before the first prototype was tested out.

In the first version of the prototype, the students would simulate a landslide where earth is slowly thrown down a miniature hill which they made before going to the risk area in their school to test it out.

When the sand and rocks fall close to their sensor, an alert will immediately be sent to a dashboard and then to the owner’s or account holder’s phone.

“This is an early warning system that allows for real-time alerts and can save lives,” said Iwana.

She said from what was learnt from some of the previous landslides, it was found that between the first and second landslides, there were some time gaps, for example a 30-minute interval before the next wave hit.

“This means that if an alert had been sent out during the first landslide, potential victims could have escaped because the second slide would cause a bigger damage and loss of lives,” she added.

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