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Queen’s intern abroad designs award-winning fire fighters’ helmet

Imagine you’re a firefighter entering a burning building. The room is so thick with smoke that you can’t see. How do you know which way to turn? This was the challenge set for Queen’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering graduate Sean Hackett before he helped design an award-winning fire fighters’ helmet that tells the wearer which way to turn with a simple buzz to the left or right of the head.  

As an IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience intern), Sean is enjoying a year placement as an intern at the Visual Intelligence Studio in Carnegie Mellon University in the USA, where he is part of a research team exploring a safer communication tool for firefighters. 

Under Senior Systems Scientist Dr. Yang Cai, the ‘Haptic Helmet’ prototype conceived by Sean’s team won the award for “most commercially viable” at the NIST Haptic Interface for Public Safety Challenge. The contest assessed the use of virtual reality environments as a development tool for creating safety technologies. 

As part of the project, Sean and the team travelled to Denver, Colorado for live demos in a fire fighting training facility. This practical experience allowed them to understand how firefighters navigate unfamiliar paths through burned buildings filled with smoke and noise.

Sean said: “The experience of interacting with real-life firefighters and working independently on solutions has been very interesting for me.”

The prototype helmet

Dr Yang said: “We encourage engineers to find simple solutions that work in the real world. “Although I give them instructions to guide and get them started, I also encourage them to use their own knowledge and experiment because in the real world there is no textbook that tells you what to do and engineers have to work on a lot of problem-solving”.

Along with Dr Yang, Sean and the team worked to develop technology that successfully improves firefighter’s safety and efficiency of in the most challenging and hazardous environments.

Sean with fellow intern Florian Alber

During his internship, Sean has also been helping edit a research paper for presentation on “Indo-Navigation and Fire Fighters Activity Recognition”. 

Dr Yang commented: “Students and participants from western Europe have a brilliant work ethic. Together, they produce research papers and work on innovative solutions, adding value to the lab. Some European interns have great writing style in addition to other talents and that is monumental when it comes to writing and editing research papers for conferences, which is great additional help.”

Sean works on drone projects for public safety alongside a fellow researcher

According to Sean, it wasn’t hard settling into the new environment thanks to the immense support offered at the lab. “Of course, it’s challenging to be away from friends, family, and home. It takes a little while for the initial adjustment of the processes and procedures but once that is done, it’s pretty smooth sailing.”

Sean and Florian check out the Grand Canyon

The year stateside has also given Sean the opportunity to experience American culture and interact with people from diverse backgrounds, participate in social activities and enjoy American adventure and sports.

To find out more about IAESTE internships, visit https://iaeste.org/open_internships

More about Sean’s research

To discover more work and study abroad programmes, visit our Global Opportunities page

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Awards Graduate success graduate training schemes Lloyds Scholarships

Queen’s Graduate Champions Low-Income Students to Aim High

Michael Dallat, one of the first cohort of Lloyds Scholars at Queen’s, is honoured as a social mobility student champion, as he graduates with a BA in Film and Theatre Making 

Michael Dallat, a Film and Theatre Making graduate from Queen’s has been honoured as a runner up in the Lloyds Scholars Champion Award 2020. Michael was nominated alongside scholars from leading universities across the UK and scooped the £1,000 runner up prize in recognition of his work championing the social mobility programme to future applicants.

Queen’s University has been a proud partner of the award-winning Lloyds Scholarship programme since 2016. Designed to support and encourage students from below average income families to study at leading universities, the programme offers students a complete package of financial support, paid internships, business mentorship and the opportunity to develop their employability skills.

As a member of one of the first cohort of Lloyds Scholars at Queen’s, Michael has undertaken two internships, completed over 100 hours of volunteering and secured a place on the Lloyds Graduate Programme for 2020.

Michael Dallat Lloyds

He said: “As a working-class lad from Coleraine, this award makes me very proud. To be in a position to inspire others is something that is really humbling for me. When I applied for the Scholars program back in school, I never thought I’d be a figurehead who others look up to. 

“The Lloyds Scholars programme is a fantastic package. The internships, volunteering and access to a mentor have been immensely beneficial for my career prospects. The internships have allowed me to develop new skills, and network with lots of driven and inspiring individuals. It has really changed my life, on both a personal and professional level.”

Wilma Fee, Director of Academic and Student Affairs at Queen’s, said Michael has inspired hundreds of students to apply for the programme over his three-year tenure. 

She said: “We are proud that Michael has been recognised as a true ambassador for the Lloyds Scholarship programme. As the lead Lloyds representative at our annual Widening Participation Open Days, Queen’s Open Days and University Offer Holder Days between 2017 and 2020, Michael spoke openly and honestly to groups of over 300 students, enthusiastically answering any questions they had and sharing his own personal stories and experiences. Michael has helped raise awareness of the Lloyds programme and raised the aspirations of hundreds of our students.”  

Congratulating Michael, Professor David Jones, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students said: “I first met Michael in October 2017 when he spoke exceptionally well at the launch of Lloyds Scholars at Queen’s and have followed his progress with pride. Shaping socially conscious and successful graduates sits at the heart of Queen’s and being honoured as a runner up in the Lloyds Scholars Champion Award 2020 is testament to the valuable difference Michael has made. It’s fantastic to see how the experience has benefitted Michael and that it has had such a significant impact on his personal development.”

“On behalf of everyone at Queen’s, I congratulate Michael for graduating and I wish him well as he embarks on the Lloyds Graduate Programme.” 

Discover the Lloyds Scholars programme