Dyson Award national winners announced

Over 2,000 young inventors entered the James Dyson Award this year, and the jury has nominated a winner and two runners up in each off the 28 participating regions.

For the UAE, that means more kudos for the Shield project from an Ajman University team, named as the national winner. The local runners up are AUS’s Agridrone, an AI-based image processing system that measures crop health from images captured from drone cameras; and the ULTRA SolarStill, a Sharjah University prototype desalination unit that utilises solar energy and ultrasonics to make it productive, sustainable and affordable.

The James Dyson Award is an international design award for the next generation of design engineers. It’s open to current and recent design engineering students, and it’s run by James Dyson’s charitable trust (so not the company itself) as part of its mission to get young people excited about design engineering.

The UAE winner comes from a team of four students from at Ajman University’s College of Engineering and Information Technology. Marwa Alshouli, Somaya Samra, Bashayer Alasfour and Shamma Hareb have created a child-safety app that detects sexual abuse, notifies the parents, and even takes a picture of the perpetrator.

This project featured earlier this year at TDRA’s fourth UAE Hackathon 2021. Some 330 teams entered for that competition, which had the theme ‘Data for Happiness & Wellbeing’, and the Ajman foursome was one of the seven winners.

“Child sexual abuse has a high chance of going unnoticed even though it has a great negative impact on the child which can last for a lifetime”, said the team. “We wanted to design a smart system that is simple, safe, unnoticeable and affordable to protect children from all forms of physical violence.”

Their project is based on a smartwatch worn by the child that includes sensors for heart rate sensor, temperature and skin conductance; a belt carrying a microcontroller and a force resistance sensor; and a pressure-sensitive conductive sheet attached to the child’s clothes. The watch’s sensors should provide an immediate indication of fear and will send a Bluetooth signal to the controller; the pressure sensors, for physical attacks, will sound an alarm, photograph the attacker (apparently via a micro-camera in a broach or pin), and automatically send a picture with the location to a parent’s smartphone.

“The prototype functioned effectively with excellent response time and gave the expected and desired output” said the team’s commentary on their submission to Dyson, but they acknowledged that using off-the-shelf components produced a setup that was “uncomfortable and bulky”; so they designed a custom PCB with all the functionality to make a lighter and more discreet system.

“Shield is simple, safe, and unnoticeable, thus it can be worn by the child daily without any difficulties” said the submission. The functionality is clever and comprehensive, provided it doesn’t deliver too many false readings; but it shouldn’t be hard to hone the data analysis to distinguish danger situations from harmless excitement or exertion, for instance.

In practice it still looks a little clunky – it requires that the child always wear the sensors, the camera, and whatever the controller is implemented as; and the pressure-sensitive material presumably requires a delicate touch if it’s to be located in physically sensitive areas.

For the future, the team projects a dedicated smartwatch with all the required sensors implemented within it, and perhaps going for a more compact alternative like a bracelet. Two other lines of development are live location tracking (which is already available in up-to-date smartphones, at least to public GPS levels of precision); and – more contentiously – a predictive model for sexual abuse utilising machine learning and AI.

We could easily see this project in production, perhaps miniaturised as a wearable. It’s up against stiff competition for the overall Dyson Prize, though (see our summary below) and presentation-wise there are some very slick prototypes among the other national winners.

Each of them will receive £2,000 and all 84 finalists – 28 winners, 56 runners-up – will now progress to the international stages of the competition. There they will have the opportunity to be one of the International Top Twenty, selected by a panel of Dyson engineers and due to be announced on 13 October.

The competition: 28 national winners

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