White City school students innovate for life after COVID-19

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Three young girls smile at camera

Winners of the Maker Challenge 2020: Grace and twins Esui and Esugen

Three female students have won top prizes for innovation in this year's Maker Challenge.

The Maker Challenge is Imperial’s flagship innovation programme for young people based at The Invention Rooms, the College’s pioneering community innovation space. The programme supports 14-18 year olds from local schools to develop their own prototype products and gadgets and gain a range of skills, from 3D printing and laser cutting to presentation and communication.

This year in response to limitations on accessing the workshop a virtual Summer Design Challenge: ‘Life after COVID-19' was launched to encourage young people to continue inventing and innovating. Students had to think about the areas of life heavily impacted by COVID-19 and created designs responding to this.

Their projects explored themes including loneliness, unemployment and mental health support. Each design was judged on how well the product tackled the effects of COVID-19-related issues, originality, communication and presentation of the idea, and product feasibility.

Grace won top prize and placed first in this summer’s competition for creating a virtual solution tackling loneliness. Second and third place were awarded to twins Esui and Esugen for their projects on mental health and virtual fatigue.  

First place: Grace tackles loneliness  

woman stands near posters and explains idea to person

“The Maker Challenge and this competition in particular, have allowed me to focus on problems that affect my community directly." Grace

Grace, 15, developed a mini AI projector called ‘Friendly Faces’ that enables immersive video calls with friends and family. Grace's projector enables video calls, images and films to be projected onto a wall.

'Friendly Faces’ was inspired by the AV1 robot, which aimed to solve the problem of loneliness in an educational context. The AV1 robot is a telepresence robot designed specifically to enable schoolchildren to participate in class lessons remotely. Grace conducted user research which drove her initial design, produced thoughtful sketches and demonstrated clear idea development. 

She said: “I took the core idea of this product and transformed it into something accessible for young people who may be experiencing short-term loneliness due to COVID-19 or those who have to be away from family or friends for other reasons.   

“My target market was teenagers so it made sense to use my friends in order to gather some insight. I found out that the majority of them didn't feel as if there was enough mental health support in these challenging times.   

“The Maker Challenge and this competition in particular have allowed me to focus on problems that affect my community directly. The challenge also makes me feel integrated into the STEM world, which a lot of young women don't feel they have a place in. STEM-focused career paths should be promoted in more educational environments, especially for women.”  

Second place: Esui on thinking like a designer 

young girl smiles at cameraEsui, 14, explored mental and physical health during lockdown. Esui developed ‘Tomoko’ - a helmet that limits the need to use public transport, encourages people to exercise and relieves stress.   

Esui’s design contains a removable massager to tackle stress plus detachable wheels – also known as heeles – with polyester straps that buckle onto most shoes. The helmet is made from polyvinyl chloride and has a dedicated space to store the wheels and massager.   

gadget“The Maker Challenge has helped me to think more like a designer and use both hard and soft skills and to do further research on careers in STEM," Esui said.   

“I have learned that there are many career paths in STEM - it is a great profession for young students like me to consider because it has a wide range of different opportunities. Since lockdown this has opened my eyes to the many things I can take part in outside of school.”  

Third place: Esugen encourages hydration  

woman poses for camera

"Education became a challenge because of COVID-19 as online learning became limited. This competition has been a huge help in taking my mind off these worries and to use my time productively." Esugen

Esugen, 14, created a multifunctional water bottle called ‘Michka’ to help people stay active during COVID-19. 

Michka is BPA-free, made from frosted plastic with a detachable glass cup and has a practical torch on the bottom. It makes the commuting journey easier for NHS staff and other key workers and aims to get people exercising to improve their mental health.  

Esugen says her goal is to become an entrepreneur. She explains: “I want to be someone who solves a problem with a product or software because it involves creative thinking and a pinch of experimentation.   

“The Maker Challenge has helped because it pushed me to tie all my skills in one, get in the zone and really think through the stages of making a product. Education became a challenge because of COVID-19 as online learning became limited. This competition has been a huge help in taking my mind off these worries and to use my time productively.  

“The programme has taught me to look at the creative process in a different lens outside of school as our lessons are quite structured and we have to think in a set way.”  

The Makerspace plans to roll out a similar competition to schools in the new year. 

Since the start of lockdown, the Reach Out Makerspace team have also responded to enquires coming in from teachers across the city who were in need of creative ideas and challenges, in supporting GCSE students in their non-exam assessments in idea generation, rapid prototyping and design inspiration. The team developed a teacher resource pack, called ‘Making Great Designs’ which is filled with fun activities, interactive challenges and individual exercises. 


Martha Salhotra

Martha Salhotra
Communications Division

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6708
Email: m.salhotra@imperial.ac.uk

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Amna Siddiq

Amna Siddiq
Office of the President

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Contact details

Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk
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