When you mix user-friendly design, enthusiasm for technology and a pinch of creativity, you can generate a windfall of problem-solving ideas. That was the intention behind the Royal College of Art (RCA) Grand Challenge. On 26 February, the four winning teams presented their projects at IdeaSquare, CERN’s innovation hub for curious minds.
The RCA Grand Challenge stems from a collaboration between CERN and RCA School of Design (London, UK), and intends to confront important societal and environment issues. Last year, the project involved seven teams, and this year broadened to 74 teams, a total of 374 RCA students, 16 RCA tutors and 16 CERN mentors.
The technology-meets-design event spanned across four big themes: health and wellbeing; digital disruption; energy, infrastructure and the environment; and social and economic disparity.
The four winning ideas were: PLOC, Nari, Knowtrition and CureScan. PLOC is an interlocking brick-cum-tile made with reprocessed plastic waste. Nari is a sanitisation device for menstrual cups, which aims to reduce the waste, cost and shame. Knowtrition is a system for smart grocery shopping that includes a scanner in the form of a shopping bag, a skin patch for health monitoring and an app that calculates the nutritional needs of the user. CureScan is a 3D-printed scanner, designed for non-experts, to identify chemical components in medications and warn of counterfeits.
“Teams were free to explore the collisions between design and science. And we emphasised the immense potential of cross-disciplinary studies,” explains Savina Torrisi, RCA Innovation Design Engineering Senior Tutor. Students were asked to ponder and analyse the similarities between the design-thinking process and the scientific approach. Data on the correlation between group dynamics and final outcomes were also collected.
RCA designers and CERN mentors took this opportunity to learn from each other. “It’s inspiring to see these societal issues tackled from such different perspectives,” says Giovanni Porcellana, former Knowledge Transfer Officer at CERN. Sabrina Amrouche, working in ATLAS’s data-processing group on machine learning for tracking, joined the programme to support the students in using AI: "I liked working with the students! They were motivated, always asking questions, and their design background made their approaches very flexible and innovative."
“We were given two words: digital disruption, and four weeks to do it,” explains Pinja Piipponen, a student of the CureScan team. “We did a research on the biggest fake products, which we discovered are medicines, electronics and cosmetics. We thought about the issue from the users’ perspective and discussed with Sabrina about the possible use of AI tools to compare medicines.”
“Our goal is to stimulate new ideas, push for really innovative applications, foster interdisciplinary collaborations to make a difference,” says Markus Nordberg, Head of Resources Development at CERN.