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Designing through CERN the future of humankind

Six teams of students drawn from IED Barcelona Design University, ESADE Business School, and Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) took part in the ninth edition of Challenge-based Innovation (CBI). For the fifth year in a row, students from these institutions have collaborated in a project developed by IdeaSquare@CERN and the Department of Innovation at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) to create solutions that make for a better world in various fields: sex equality; education; mental health; access to drinking water; access to energy; and food safety.

Nine Full-Time MBA students from ESADE Business School; nine students taking Undergraduate Degrees in Design and Design Management at IED Barcelona, and nine students from the Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering (ETSETB, UPC) (specifically, those taking a Degree in Engineering Technologies and Telecommunications Services, and the Master in Telecom Engineering) took part in the programme’s latest edition. These three higher education institutions are the only Spanish centres taking part in the CBI — an experimental training programme covering innovation and which is open to universities worldwide. CBI’s purpose is to forge much closer links between society and Science.

Working in multidisciplinary teams, the students experimented with ways of making all three fields of training converge by coming up with innovative solutions that will benefit Mankind. To this end, each group identified which challenge it wished to meet, using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as a guidance framework. This time round, the proposals focused on issues such as: management and the quality of time spent on social network links; the removal of gender inequalities in work-life balance; re-cycling household grey water to turn it into drinking water; Nigerian nomads’ access to education; everyone’s right to have proper home heating; the need to track the quality of foodstuff at point of origin and during their transport and before they are sold.

After months of work in both Barcelona and in Geneva (where they met CERN scientists), the students drew up innovative proposals based on digital tracking, e-printing, Augmented Reality (AR), and satellite connectivity. The result is six projects that highlight our society’s real needs and that come up with solutions that further Mankind’s development.

Six solutions to meet six world challenges

The Schrödinger Team created Totem — a device providing better time management and ‘quality time’ by regulating our use of social networks. Given that algorithms are increasingly shaping our relations and behaviour, this group sought to ensure new technologies are being used properly by coming up with  a twin application that studies the kind of user and his potential, notifying him of the events, activities, and initiatives that will help him make best use of his time, be most effective, and be healthy. The aim is to stop users falling into the bad habits fostered by obsessive, unthinking use of social networks.

The Leaf Project is a blackboard-tablet providing an education system for Nigeria’s nomads. The Tyson Team is the one behind the solution, which caters to children aged from 6 to 12. Nomads’ children cannot attend schools when trekking from one herd grazing area to another. To tackle the problem, the team came up with a solar-powered device that lets children continue their education while on the move. The system features various SD cards containing exercises organised by education levels and covering key subjects such as language and maths. The solution incorporates: (1) an off-line self-evaluation component so that students can do their exercises off-line; (2) an online satellite-linked component so that students’ results can be sent to the school and taken onboard by the education system.

 The Kaya Team’s project seeks to boost partners’ commitment to avoiding imbalances in the way their roles and tasks are shared. To this end, it has created the We Be, a device that is halfway between a piece of jewellery and a high-tech ‘wearable’. Both partners wear one. The device indicates the wearer’s stress level, signalling it to the other partner. This helps the partners detect stressful situations and share out their tasks fairly. The solution is designed to end gender inequalities and foster better family relationships.

The fourth project, by the Mercalli Team, looked at how household grey water could be turned into drinking water. The result is Water Wall, a home water management system that features three filters: a sand filter, an activated charcoal filter, and — last but not least — a plasma filter. These filters allow one to use 80% of grey water and also to analyse users’ water-consumption patterns. Furthermore, with the usage of the Internet of Things, there are plans to turn Water Wall into new water purification systems that could be sold to companies and other households, creating revenue for users.

The OHM Team’s project covers heating systems for everyone. The design is based on the idea that one should warm people, not their dwellings. Many elderly people live alone in cold homes and are poor. They need warmth during the Winter. Bwarm is a household device that creates heat maps, detecting the user and his needs. Using a swivel, focusable infrared spotlight on the home ceiling, the device points at the user and provides just the right amount of heat for comfort and safety.

FRUIoT is a service that tells users what state foodstuffs are in before they are sold. This is achieved through ‘smart’ labels. Distributors and food chains need to ensure foodstuffs remain fit for human consumption during transport and at the point of origin. To solve this problem, the Gell-Man Team came up with a system of electronic labels for the analysis, selection, and picking of products through tracking systems. The smart labels monitor the ambient conditions and pollution affecting foodstuffs to make sure that products are in top condition when they reach shops. The system ensures that food distribution and sales chains can rest assured that consumers are supplied with the best produce. The labels also provide information on foodstuffs and let consumers trace product history from point of origin to the meal table.

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