Young scientists put data to work in solving problems

March 13th, 2018, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT

A group of young data science students could have the answer to help prevent fatalities in South African mines due to seismic activity and rock bursts, with the development of an early warning and monitoring system called “Rock Pulse”.

The students are part of a group participating in the Data Science for Impact and Decision Enablement (DSIDE) programme, funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and implemented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The programme is aimed at building capacity in data science by recruiting students to participate in practical problem solving to meet real-world needs. Fifty students from across the country were recruited in this year’s programme, which has trained 141 students since its inception in 2014.

Rock Pulse works by collecting underground data in real-time using a geophone connected to a roof bolt in a mineshaft.  Algorithms then interpret the data in order to identify triggers or potentially hazardous events, eventually setting off an alarm initiating the evacuation of the affected sections of the mine.

Nicolene Roux, Boitumelo Mahlobo and Clodita Mandlazi, the students who developed the dashboard, say the technology has reached a level of confidence which assures its validity, but that improvements are still needed as it cannot yet differentiate between a man-made and a non-man-made sound. The ultimate goal is that the system should be able to inform future planning, identify the risks and define the shortest exit paths in cases of evacuation.”

Another project in the programme is the “Municipal Money and Youth Explorer”, which uses data to profile employment and service delivery in municipalities around the country. Youth Explorer uses Census 2011 data on challenges faced by the youth, and enables researchers and policy-makers to focus on areas of concern to implement interventions. The project found that in households where no one has a matric, the chances of unemployment are high, and that the young people in that household will most likely be unemployed.

According to Thabang Mashinini, a big data and analytics student, the system is a useful tool for municipalities to improve their efficiency and provide platforms to improve employment in the country.

A project carried out by Advance IO, which installs smart meters for households in Ekurhuleni Municipality, is trying to identify irregular usage patterns and detect potential electricity fraud. Electricity theft is a significant problem that results in revenue loss and increased costs to paying customers, as well as a range of safety issues. Identifying irregular usage patterns and detecting potential electricity fraud has become paramount.

An electronic engineering student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Mixo Ngobeni, says the system is able to spot anomaly trends, which may be the result of electricity theft, meter bypassing or a resetting function.

Projects under the DSIDE initiative are currently on display at the DST.

Contact Veronica Mohapeloa, Department of Science and Technology, Tel 083 400-5750, veronica.mohapeloa@dst.gov.za