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The James Dyson Award is looking for New Zealand’s next big inventor

The 2021 James Dyson Award is now open for entries, with two global prizes to be won.

12 May 2021

Past winners

Mechanical engineering graduate, Swaleh Owais and Yang Cheng, and Carvey Ehren Maigue have been previously named a Top 20 finalist in the James Dyson Award. Owais's and Cheng's invention and Maigue's invention, is just two of several inventions among the global best entries that seeks to create a more inclusive world, solving problems faced by people with less access to resources and recycling.

Polyformer - a project that recycles plastic bottles into 3D filament

During Owais's and Cheng's time at a makerspace in Rwanda, they discovered that many locals were unable to utilize the 3D printers due to the expensive cost of importing filament and that there was a scarcity of infrastructure for recycling plastic bottles in the country. As a result, we devised a solution to address both issues by constructing a machine that could transform plastic waste into 3D printer filament for the makerspace. Polyformer is a machine that recycles plastic bottles into 3D printer filament. The device reduces plastic consumption, while also producing 3D printer filament at low costs. By implementing this machine, makers in Rwanda now have convenient access to affordable and high-quality printer filament. Their short-term goal is to deploy several Polyformers at 3D printing labs in Rwanda and then promote it in other developing countries. This will ensure people in developing countries have access to affordable filament and means to recycle plastic bottles as its low cost of $150 is financially accessible to many communities.

AuREUS system - a project that creates aurora renewable energy

Maigue's project evolved from the understanding of how glass buildings in urban areas are contributing to excessive UV exposure. The idea for the solution was inspired by the process of creating Auroras. By utilizing luminescent particles that convert high energy (gamma, UV) into low energy (visible light), this technology functions similarly to address the issue. Traditionally, solar farms have been constructed in a horizontal manner. However, AuREUS introduces a new approach. By harnessing UV rays, AuREUS can generate electricity even when not directly facing the sun. When buildings are covered on all sides with AuREUS, they transform into vertical solar farms. Farmers often face losses due to the spoilage of crops. This technology offers a solution by enabling the upcycling of agricultural waste, reducing such losses. It advocates for the sequestration of UV rays, improved availability of solar energy to combat climate change, and assistance to the local agriculture sector affected by disasters through the repurposing of crop waste, thereby reducing losses for farmers. To achieve a higher sourcing rate of 100% from fruits and vegetables instead of chemicals, further investigation will be conducted to extract the required luminescent particles. This research will contribute to the sustainability of the process. AuREUS currently produces 30 panels per month. However, with additional funding, it can establish a dedicated team and facility to enhance its production capacity. The future holds promising advancements in chassis formation for solar-powered transportation, which will contribute to the development of more efficient and sustainable vehicles.

Since 2005, the James Dyson Award has challenged inventive and entrepreneurial undergraduates and recent graduates of engineering and design, to ‘design something that solves a problem’. Purposely broad and open-ended, the brief challenges students to solve big problems.

Past winners have found solutions to renewable energy generation, new forms of sustainable plastics, and medical and cancer screenings. James Dyson chooses the two global winners; they receive vital funding and global recognition – key first steps to take their ideas into real life practical application.

“Young people want to change the world and the Award supports them to do that giving crucial funding, validation and a platform to launch their ideas. They are remarkably successful, 65% of international winners are commercialising their ideas, against a backdrop where 90% of start-ups fail. I will be looking for radical inventions that challenge and question established thinking. Good luck!”

James Dyson, Founder and Chief Engineer at Dyson

2020, an unmatched year

The James Dyson Award saw a record-breaking number of entries to the Award and the new Sustainability prize awarded its first recipient: AuREUS, invented by Carvey Ehren Maigue from the Philippines. Recognising the role that engineers and scientists play in creating a sustainable future, the James Dyson Award introduced this global recognition prize last year, focused on ideas which tackle environmental issues and share Dyson’s philosophy of lean engineering, doing more with less.

In 2021, there continues to be two $56,000 NZD global prizes: the the International winner and the Sustainability winner. But first, each participating country and region will award a National winner ($3,700NZD) and two National runners-up. Those that win a National accolade proceed to the international awarding stages.

New Zealand in 2021 will be judged by a talented line up of experienced industry figures, including international entrepreneur Derek Handley, sustainable business entrepreneur Brianne West and scientist, inventor and local legend Sir Ray Avery.

Solving real problems

  • The best inventions are often the simplest, providing clear and intelligent solutions to real-world problems. The 2020 International winner, The Blue Box,is an at-home breast cancer detection device that diagnoses patients using an AI algorithm and a urine sample. It is designed to be less invasive and more accessible than current screening processes, after witnessing a rise in women skipping mammograms.

    The 2020 New Zealand National winner Voronoi Runners addressed the global issue of waste from the footwear industry in shoes that can be easily deconstructed, with every component and material compostable at the end of its life.

Boosting opportunities

The Award has given young inventors international media exposure, which has opened up further investment and opportunities for them to develop their ideas. The UK 2011 National winner KwickScreen, infection-controlled screens for patient safety, has grown to establish a company employing over 70 people, supplying screens to every NHS trust in the UK and 240 hospitals internationally.

In 2017, US National runner-up SoaPen, a colourful soap pen encouraging safe handwashing, commercialised their invention and were listed in the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 List. SoaPen now ships its expanding product portfolio across America, most recently creating a hand sanitizer to meet demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.

How to enter

Candidates can enter through an online application form via the James Dyson Award website. The deadline to apply: midnight PST on 30 June 2021.

Entrants should explain what their invention is, how it works, and their development process. The best entries solve a real problem, are clearly explained, show iterative development, provide evidence of prototyping and have supporting imagery and a video.

Enter via the James Dyson Award website here.

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