Meet The Young Pioneers Using Tech To Make The World A Better Place


Mihika, creator of Smart Stick.


Telecoms giant BT has announced the finalists of its young pioneer award, which celebrates youngsters using tech to make the world a better place.

Run as part of the wider Tech4Good Awards, the BT Young Pioneer Award highlights ways that young people are tackling societal and environmental problems through innovation.

In the past, recipients of the award have addressed issues such as environmental sustainability, mental health and supporting people with disabilities.

The winner will be awarded with £5,000 to spend within the BT shop on new technology that will allow them to further their inventions, while finalists get to attend a networking event at BT Tower and receive tickets to visit Bletchley Park.

Andy Wales, chief digital impact and sustainability officer at BT, said: “The pace of tech change is fundamentally reshaping our world. Young people not only need to be ready for that but also actively designing the tech that will shape their future.

“We’re proud to be sponsoring the Tech4Good awards and inspired by how this year’s BT Young Pioneer finalists aim to improve the lives of those with disabilities to ensure nobody is left behind.”

Freddie Howells, 13 – Door Pi Plus

Looking to help people with dementia and other vulnerable adults lead independent lives, Freddie has developed a facial recognition door entry and home monitoring system. He came up with the technology to support his great aunt Pat, who is 88 and lives at home with dementia.

“The system is built using a Raspberry Pi microcontroller. A motion sensor on the front door detects when a visitor arrives which triggers the camera to take a picture. This picture is compared against a database of known faces,” he explained.

“If the face is recognized, the visitor is asked to confirm their identity by scanning their ID tag. If the face and id tag match, the door is opened via an electric door strike, controlled via a single channel relay. At the same time a text alert is sent to the family to let them know who has visited and an audio recording of the visitor’s voice is played to the elderly person to help them identify the visitor.

Mihika Sharma, 9 – Smart Stick

One day, Mihika and her mother experienced an upsetting situation when a blind lady they helped cross the road nearly tripped over. This led to Mihika creating Smart Stick, a walking aid that helps blind people walk safely by themselves. It features ultrasonic sensors that detect obstacles, a water sensor that identifies puddles and motors that direct users.

She said: “I set up Smart Stick in 2016 when I was five years old after I’d been with my mum when she was trying to help a blind lady cross the road, when I forgot to mention there was a step and the lady nearly tripped over. This experience upset me, so I decided to make a Smart Stick to help blind people walk safely by themselves.

“Today the stick has many features including sensors, Bluetooth, GPS, LED lights and more. I thought of the design very carefully and included features that can give blind and deaf people their independence.”

Tess and Amy McMullan, 13 – Be Seen Trendy

Tess and Amy are the creators of Be Seen Trendy, a small handheld device that reads NFC labels attached to coat hangers and helps blind people dress independently. Powered by a Raspberry Pi computer, the solution provides information such as the garment, description, color, type of material and other items that can be worn with it.

“There are two of us in our group who decided to take part in designing something that would have a practical application for people with vision difficulties or impairment. We also felt that it could benefit a wide range of people including the elderly who may have declining sight and who might feel that they are cut off from the outside world,” said the pair.

“Our teacher provided us with a raspberry pi which is a device that we used to create the ‘Be seen Trendy’ device. The reason that we decided that this would be good was because one of us had a relative who was visually impaired and who always said it was difficult to find the right combination of clothes as colors were difficult to differentiate.”

Joshua Lowe, 15 – Edublocks

With the aim of getting more youngsters to take up coding, Joshua designed a drag-and-drop version of Python 3 that lets students learn the programming language with minimal errors. It’s now being used in more than 120 countries globally.

“It was frustrating seeing students struggling with the transition to text-based programming. They were so used to getting results quickly and making their code work by dragging and dropping blocks that when they then had to move on to having to write lines and lines of code, that then resulted in numerous syntax errors and the code not working, that they would lose interest,” he said.

“ I thought there must be an easier way of transitioning the knowledge and rules already learnt from block based programming to that of the text-based language of Python. Not only has Edublocks achieved this, it has also enabled younger children to start accessing Python and allowed teachers to become more confident in the delivery of this area of the computing curriculum.”

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, July 17.

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