Benjamin Mueggenburg designed a system to locate missing planes.
Bright sparks don’t come much brighter than Whangaparaoa College student Benjamin Mueggenburg.
At almost 13 years of age, Benjamin recently won the ‘best junior concept’ category of a national technology competition – ASB Bright Sparks. The competition is described as “New Zealand’s premier showcase for brilliant young minds”.
What Benjamin enjoys most is using complex computer code and electronics (which he describes as “the easier part”) to solve real problems.
His winning project, the Visual Plane Locating System, was sparked by the loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which went down in 2014 and remains missing.
Benjamin’s idea, which took him a year of work to fully complete, was not to replace radar, but to provide a backup that could be used when those systems fail. It involves placing large QR codes on the wings of aircraft that can be read by satellite to track planes in real time.
His father, Gary Mueggenburg who teaches science at the college, says Benjamin has never been afraid to question current thinking. “He looks at what other people have come up with and says ‘that’s not good enough’,” Gary says.
Benjamin says his ideas “are just there”. Last year, for the same competition, he came up with a pool alarm system that is activated when something around the size of a young child falls in the water. This used an accelerometer, which measures gravitational movement. It was placed in a sealed container in the water and sent information to a computer when it detected wave movement, setting off the alarm.
Benjamin remembers an important trigger for his interest in programming, robotics and nano technology was saving up to purchase a small Arduino, or mini programmable computer, at the age of eight.
“I have always been interested in coming up with new ideas and am into science and maths, but I used the Arduino to learn the language (of programming) and was really excited,” Benjamin says.
ASB Bright Sparks began 16 years ago as an email club started by a chemistry teacher. Since then it has grown into the most prominent competition in New Zealand for young inventors.
In recent years the scope of the programme has moved beyond electronics to include inventions focused on software, the environment, and science.
Winners and finalists have gone on to commercial and academic success.