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Student inventor on international stage

A Victoria University student is proving that a great idea can be a ticket to world travel. 

Lucas Harris, 22, is off to Guangzhou China next month to present his idea for a fire-prevention device in an ‘Olympics-like’ contest for technology inventions, the Asia-Pacific ICT Alliance Awards.

The Bendigo-area resident came up with the invention after he went to Italy last year as part of a Victoria University team participating in the prestigious tech start-up training school, the European Innovation Academy.

With help from his College of Business entrepreneurship lecturer and mentor, Dr Selvi Kannan, Lucas connected with some VU engineering students to create FireFly, a sensor system designed to monitor the risk of household fires before they start.

The device came runner-up for university student innovations in both state, and then national finals of the Australian National iAwards last month, making him eligible for the contest in China.

Lucas’ interest in fire prevention became personal after his family was forced to evacuate its 400-acre farm that backs onto state forest near Shelbourne during recent bushfires.

 “I’ve always had an interest in innovation and wanted to design something that I was passionate about.”

The device, while still in prototype, can detect changes in temperature, light, air quality and motion inside a house.  It can then send alerts to a mobile phone when risk levels increase, such as when a sizzling fry pan exceeds a safe temperature, a hot stove has not been monitored for a long time, or an electrical appliance shorts out.  

Device assesses risk before fires start

Lucas designed Firefly for use mainly in home kitchens where more than half household fires in Australia begin. He has already had early discussions about it with kitchen appliance manufacturers and insurance companies.

“Unlike other devices, this technology uses a pro-active approach to prevent fires before they begin, instead of alerting residents once one has already started,” he said.

Lucas said he is excited about his trip to China where he will compete against entrepreneurs from 17 other countries and present his design to international judges in a ‘Shark-Tank’-like pitch. While he’s there, he won’t miss the chance to make connections and take his prototype to the next level.

“Representing VU at the competition is great, but after the awards, I’ll be busy touring factories.”

Lucas says entrepreneurship runs in the Harris family. His great-great-grandfather started a bacon-making business in the area more than 150 years ago, while his dad opened several of his own businesses in the area more recently, a yabbie farm and a pre-cast-concrete company.

Lucas Harris is available for interview and photos.

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