Tech4Good: BT Puts Spotlight on Young Innovators

By Marc Allera, CEO, BT’s Consumer brands

Cars powered by wind turbines, eliminating the need for petrol; living trees powering people’s homes and an app that shows you the precise environmental impact of everything you eat.

All concepts from a science fiction movie, or a far-flung future – right? Wrong: these are some of the ideas put forward by the shortlist of finalists for the 2021 BT Young Pioneer Award – part of the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards.

Our ambition to Connect for Good is behind the Tech4Good Awards, which BT co-founded with AbilityNet more than 10 years ago. The Tech4Good Awards recognise organisations and individuals who use digital tech to improve the lives of others and make the world a better place. With AbilityNet, our goal is to shine a spotlight on these inspiring stories and help others learn how they can use technology to do good – as well as support putting some of these brilliant ideas into practice.

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This year, BT encouraged young people between nine and 18 to gear their innovative tech ideas towards tackling climate change. This year’s winner will receive up to £10,000 in funding, and will be supported by BT experts to help make their project become a reality.

I’m really excited about the finalists on our Young Pioneer shortlist.

Annabelle Sappor’s Huracan Makina concept is an electric car that will use wind turbines underneath the grille and the wheels to produce energy to keep the car running so the driver doesn’t have to stop and charge.

By using wind energy generated when the car is moving, it keeps the battery charged so is more economically efficient as well as more environmentally friendly.

Wind is clean, free and readily available making it cost efficient and accessible in poorer nations,” says Annabelle, 11. “Conventional hybrids need a petrol engine which is more expensive, harmful to the environment and still needs to be refilled regularly. I really believe in this idea.”

The Green Food Score app, an entry from Theo McSharry (10), is designed to help people make informed and sustainable choices about the products they buy, and the food they eat.

Theo and his parents live in Mozambique, where they have seen first-hand the impact of climate change in the form of tropical storms. After introducing a household ban on Theo’s favourite chocolate spread because of the impact it has on the environment, he got thinking about what other food products might not be produced in sustainable ways.

Theo has found similar apps do not go as far as he would like. He intends for the Green Food Score app to bring together data on deforestation and land usage, production, transportation, packaging and waste.

“As consumers – particularly young, climate-aware ones – we want to make informed and sustainable choices about the products we buy and the food we eat,” he says. “But the information is not available or is too complicated to understand. We all have mobile phones, so I thought: ‘What if we could just scan a barcode and get the information on a specific product with a score of 1-10 to help show us how sustainable that product is?’”

Otto Sutton’s FrankEinstein app, meanwhile, is designed to help people ‘upcycle’ everyday items they might find in their home to avoid them heading for landfill. To take FrankEinstein from concept to reality, Otto (11) is looking to learn more about machine learning and app development.

The app works by taking a photo of a product, then giving the user suggestions on how the product, or its components can be upcycled. ‘Why not turn this old washing machine drum into a fire pit?’ There are other websites, such as instructables.com, that tell you how you can make something, but not what you can make. Other platforms, like Freecycle promote re-use through giving goods away, but FrankEinstein links the two together, building a valuable database of products that can be made from spare parts in the process.

“I believe FrankEinstein will make the connected global community take the concept of waste and turn it upside down,” says Otto. “I want to help educate everyone about waste, encouraging people to connect through a shared purpose and think of waste as a creative opportunity and not a problem. My app seeks to identify and eliminate sources of waste, while reducing the energy and materials needed to make new things.”

Isabella Gordon-Finlayson’s Tree Electricity uses the power of nature, wind, and tree vibrations to help harness energy into renewable electricity.

Living on a smallholding run by her parents in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, has also played its part, but more so being surrounded by trees and wind led to Isabella (11) thinking about how she could harness the power of nature.

“My project will help ordinary people generate electricity with three things: a tree, wind and the technology,” says Isabella. “It will have a machine that will turn the vibrations from the tree branches into electricity. Wind movement creates vibrations in branches and my idea involves harnessing this energy using cables that are attached to the tree, without damaging it.

“Bladeless wind turbines already use this concept, but I like the idea of using natural resources that are already there and help with climate change. Most of us live next to trees, so who knows: it could have been there all along waiting to be invented!”

Fighting Fly Tipping was born out of school friends Henry and Raphael (both 11) spending more time walking in their local areas during lockdown and spotting examples of items discarded in the street, with bins full to the brim with rubbish.

The Fighting Fly Tipping app is designed to help people anonymously report to their local councils rubbish left where it shouldn’t be.

“There is nothing like this around, and fly tipping is a massive issue,” says Henry. “Sadly not many people report fly tipping, so we hope our app will encourage more people to do so.

“Even though our project is only a concept at the moment, we’re already thinking about what else we can do,” says Raphael. “So, for example, extending the service to include public bins that might be full so they can be emptied, helping to reducing loose litter.”

The entries we’ve seen are not only incredibly innovative, but they have shone a spotlight on how young tech entrepreneurs and inventors are thinking about new solutions that can support action against climate change – whether that’s helping to reduce CO2 emissions or environmental waste in our day-to-day lives.

That way of thinking is incredibly important to BT, and our purpose of Connecting for Good. As part of plans to become a net zero carbon emissions business by 2045, BT is using 100 per cent renewable electricity worldwide. Consumers who buy mobile or broadband from EE, BT or Plusnet are already supplied by networks that are powered by 100 per cent clean power. Plus we have outlined plans to electrify up to 28,000 of our 33,000 vehicles by 2030.

Good luck to all our finalists. No matter who is chosen as our new BT Young Pioneer, your ideas and enthusiasm to help tackle climate change are already an inspiration.

The winners will be announced during an all-new online awards ceremony on Wednesday 14 July 2021.