Marvin the microscope is to cut down on asbestos in Australia – Richard Evans, The Advertiser – October 17th, 2017

ONE in three Australian homes is contaminated with asbestos and testing methods have changed very little over the past 50 years says engineer and innovator, Jordan Gruber.

Asbestos, and its related diseases, remain an enormous problem he said with very little done to counter the lurking menace also found in schools, hospitals and commercial buildings across the country. Until now.

Twenty-four-year-old Mr Gruber is co-founder and head of South Australia’s Frontier Microscopy, a start-up about to shake the asbestos industry to its core. And in the vein of true innovation, it’s fronted by a microscope, called Marvin.

A post Adelaide University spell with Saab Australia under his belt, Mr Gruber set up on his own at the start of last year and developed the first prototype of Marvin which can scan and analyse asbestos samples.

The prototype used a $700 microscope modified using 3D printing technology to allow it to be controlled by a computer.

Around 12 months ago his business was accepted into the inaugural SouthStart program for technology start-ups in SA and in November 2016 “Marvin” was well received at the Third International Asbestos Awareness and Management Conference.

The upshot is a fast and accurate way to test for airborne asbestos fibres, potentially making life safer for thousands of Australians.

Using artificial intelligence, advanced robotic microscopy, and cloud-based software, Marvin will revolutionise how the world monitors, detects and stores the results of asbestos air monitoring on demolition and construction sites.

There are two key components, a robotic microscope analysis system and a software management suite.

“Asbestos materials must be respected, else asbestos fibres can become airborne and pose serious risk to workers and the general public.,” Mr Gruber said.

“This is a major global health issue, particularly in construction and demolition. Our mission is to use cutting edge technology to vastly improve the testing process and reduce the risk of public harm.”

Master Builders SA, chief executive Ian Markos, said asbestos remains a pressing concern.

“The dangers associated with disturbing asbestos-containing materials should not be underestimated,” he said.

“Exposure to asbestos has been associated with severe health ailments affecting the lungs, abdomen and heart. People need to know that any home built prior to 1980 almost certainly has asbestos-containing materials.”

Asbestos removal should only be done by a licensed contractor with MBA (SA) offering courses to sub contractors to help ID asbestos he said.

About six times faster than a human, Marvin – which is patent-pending – analyses air samples using a custom built robotic microscope.

The robotic microscope system takes several hundred photographs across an entire air filter sample in under a minute with images uploaded to cloud software and analysed for signs of asbestos.

“For labs there are significant benefits, as Marvin eliminates the manual processing of dangerous minerals and screens air samples for asbestos fibres in a fraction of the time it takes humans,” Mr Gruber said.

Marvin should become commercially available worldwide in the next few months, following a commercial validation testing program. Frontier’s work has been supported by a $50,000 grant under the SA Early Commercialisation Fund Program, plus $75,000 investment and intense mentoring via Startmate, Australia’s premier technology startup accelerator backed by Blackbird Ventures. Frontier Microscopy has also received more than $100,000 from Adelaide based angel investors.

As with many inventions, it was all unplanned to start with.

“I was working with Saab on self-driving vehicle technology,” Mr Gruber said. “At the same time my brother Stephen was working on the monitoring and maintenance of asbestos. It was a meeting of minds.

“I think I have the confidence of being a 24-year-old engineer who goes out and tells his story. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I did not have a strong belief. This is something I have built, I’ll get out and back myself.”