Engineers can change the world: even one of the most famous, Sir James Dyson, is convinced. Known for the many products that bear his name, such as vacuum cleaners and fans, the 74-year-old Englishman also founded the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, the James Dyson Foundation and the James Dyson Award, all of which encourage aspiring engineers to apply their knowledge and discover new ways to improve life with technology. Since the contest’s first edition in 2005, Dyson and the James Dyson Foundation have donated over £ 135 million for innovative concepts in education and other charitable causes. The award financially supported nearly 300 inventions and awarded over one million euros to more than 250 promising inventions by young engineers and designers in 28 countries.
In 2021, the award registered a record number of entries: “It is extraordinary to see the enthusiasm with which young people face the problems of the world through design, engineering and science,” commented Dyson. This year’s proposals were so promising that we awarded a third prize, focusing on invention in the medical field ”. Candidates are asked to confront a problem and come up with a solution to solve it. Nominations are first judged at national level by a group of external judges, then they move on to the international stage. A group of Dyson engineers then select an international shortlist of 20 nominations and Sir James Dyson finally selects his global winners. Unlike other contests, participants are given full autonomy over their intellectual property.
An aid for the early diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma
The invention that earned the title of international winner of this year’s James Dyson Award was inspired by the diagnosis of glaucoma by the father of one of the inventors, Kelu. After experiencing her discomfort and her multiple hospital visits, she realized that a less invasive and more accessible method of intraocular pressure monitoring is needed. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. About 80 million people suffered from glaucoma in 2020, and more than 111 million are projected to be by 2040. There is no cure but, if diagnosed and treated early, blindness can be prevented. Today, regular monitoring of intraocular pressure is a fundamental tool to help doctors determine long-term treatment plans and goals, and for this there is a demand for measuring devices that are safe, low-cost and usable even by inexperienced people.
HOPES (Home eye Pressure E-skin Sensor) could be the solution. After creating a profile in the app, the user puts on the HOPES glove with the sensor positioned on the tip of the finger, pressing it against the center of the eyelid. The fingertip, thanks to a unique sensor architecture, captures information about the user’s dynamic eye pressure with sub-millisecond precision. Captured signals are processed by machine learning algorithms to continuously and accurately measure users’ intraocular pressure. Data is transmitted via Bluetooth to paired devices and uploaded to the cloud for remote access by physicians.
“I have experienced firsthand how invasive and unpleasant tests for glaucoma can be, but it is a vital test,” comments Sir James Dyson. “This group of young people have faced a problem that does not directly concern them, but affects members of their family. Their work has the potential to make testing for glaucoma a lot easier. ” The HOPES team plans to work with physicians at the National University Hospital to collect and analyze patient eye pressure data to train the device’s machine learning modes and are working to optimize system performance and improve its design. “We want to improve people’s quality of life and our aspiration is to apply the sensor technology of our research group to different health monitoring devices, such as robotics and biomedical devices,” they said.
Sustainability: a scanner for plastics
91% of the world’s plastic is not recycled. And every year, humans produce more than two billion tons of waste – 300 million tons of it is plastic, and many of it ends up in landfills and oceans. Therefore, recycling must be made simpler and more accessible to all. Plastic Scanner, invented by Dutchman Jerry de Vos, is this year’s winner of the sustainability category. It is a portable device that when leaning against the plastic signals the user what materials it is made of, using infrared light to detect the components.
Graduated in Industrial and Product Design, de Vos is a member of Precious Plastic, an organization that aims to reduce plastic waste. Starting with a technology used in large factories in the Netherlands, where infrared reflections assist sorting, he has made it available to everyone in the world so that everyone can help recycle better. Plastic Scanner uses infrared light to detect types of plastics, a new, low-cost approach to traditional infrared spectroscopy. The hardware is completely open-source, so anyone can assemble the breakout board and embed the electronics in a portable device. Open source also serves to gather feedback and improvements from experts, so the project will continually improve as more people recycle plastics around the world. De Vos’ mission is to support recycling initiatives especially in low- and middle-income countries, and in fact Plastic Scanner is designed to be a low-cost and easy-to-use device.
“It may be fashionable to demonize plastic, but it is a durable and versatile material that has an important role to play. The challenge, of course, is to make sure it is reused and recycled effectively to avoid it ending up in landfills,” commented Sir James Dyson. . Meanwhile, de Vos has assembled a team of friends who specialize in machine learning systems to support the creation of new prototypes and test the scanner in industry and in low-resource settings. His goal is to make the project self-sustaining, with self-produced versions of the Scanner, enriching the Open source documentation to allow others to contribute more easily to its mission. .
Medicine: a device for intervening on cuts
Stabbed weapon crimes increased in nearly every continent last year, particularly in countries with restrictive gun laws. The Rapid Emergency Actuating Tamponade (REACT) device aims to reduce blood loss from a cut injury. For the treatment of stab wounds it is recommended never to remove the firearm if it is still in position, as this prevents internal bleeding, and the concept developed by Joseph Bentley is based on the same principle, the implantable balloon tamponade in Medical grade silicone is inserted into the wound tract by a first responder. The actuator device is connected to the infill valve, and the user selects the wound location on the device interface. Pressing the trigger on the actuator initiates the automatic inflation sequence, and the tamponade is inflated to a pressure defined by the location of the wound to try to stem the bleeding. The application and automatic inflation procedure of the REACT system could be a more effective method for first responders than traditional methods. Bentley claims that its prototype rear-end collision could be able to stop a bleeding in less than a minute, thus saving hundreds of lives a year. “The REACT system has the potential to be a life-saving tool in the fight against crimes committed with edged weapons, but the development of medical devices is a long and challenging process. The recognition and funding provided by the James Dyson Award gave me the determination and confidence to develop REACT and bring it into the hands of first responders as soon as possible, “comments Bentley. The prize – 33,000 euros – will bring his project closer to commercialization, expected in the coming years, allowing for further research and medical tests.