Gagandeep Reehal (right), CTO of Minus Zero, and self-driving vehicle prototype

E&T Innovation Awards: young pioneers in the spotlight

Image credit: Minus Zero

What is more inspiring than young engineers bringing their new generation of ideas to solve societal issues? The Young Pioneer Award, a new category at this year’s E&T Innovation Awards, is highlighting this talent, with entrants aged 15-25.

Dr Ivan Ling is assistant professor at University of Southampton, Malaysia, a member of the IET Young Professionals Committee, and also a past winner of the IET Global Challenge. He comments: “This is an exciting new category for the E&T Innovation Awards for 2021. E&T has identified seven critical tech and engineering challenges we need to tackle today to make tomorrow better. These are sustainability, mobility, switch to alternative energy sources, diversity, equality and inclusion, global family, trust and truth, and inspiration. With this award, we want to celebrate rising talents who are using engineering, science, and technology to accelerate societal development within these critical areas. They will be paving the way for future generations.”

Despite being in its inaugural year, the Award inspired an encouraging entry of 17 people and projects. “The judging panel was pleasantly surprised to receive so many entries, with technologies used in locations ranging from ocean depths to outer space addressing issues in sectors including fashion, sports, healthcare, and energy,” says Adekola Lawal, decarbonisation expert at Uniper Technologies, who is chair of the judging panel for this category. “After several weeks of review and deliberation, we are pleased to have reached a consensus on the three shortlisted entries for the public vote.”

These three finalists will, unlike the other categories in the E&T Innovation Awards, be decided on a public vote that will commence two weeks before the Awards presentation night on 25 November 2021 and continue through the ceremony itself, culminating in announcement of the winning entry at the climax of the event. More details about how to vote will be released in the near future. In the meantime, here is your first taste of the Young Pioneers for 2021.

Gagandeep Reehal, co-founder and CTO/CEO of Minus Zero

Project: Building and testing a self-driving vehicle live on a public road for just $700

The Minus Zero team claims to be the first company in the world to test a self-​driving vehicle live on unregulated Indian roads (with Level 3 autonomy). This was done in just four months with a budget of only $700 by retrofitting a rented electric three-wheeler rickshaw (pictured above).

The team has identified two major problems faced by the self-driving industry. The first is a high dependency on data, which causes AI models to fail in unseen scenarios, leading to crashes. The second is the need for expensive computation and sensory hardware (high-end processors on vehicles, costly lidar sensors, and supercomputers for model training). Both are addressed by Minus Zero’s nature-inspired AI, which it claims replicates human intuition artificially to address the first issue, and because it is less data-dependent it resolves the second issue of expensive data acquisition.

Another innovation was the proprietary algorithm that can extract 3D information like depth, velocity, and acceleration of surrounding objects from a 2D video feed of a monocular camera only, thus eliminating the use of expensive depth sensors like lidars entirely, decreasing capex on a single vehicle.

“It’s easy to build something new when you have billions on the table,” said Gagandeep Reehal. “The real challenge of innovation is to make it viable for equitable access to everyone, making it economically feasible enough without compromising on the robust purpose it intends to solve. We took this up a year ago to deliver a driverless vehicle out in the wild for under $700. It might be a small step in this giant ecosystem, but it’s a stealth beginning of a larger vision of bringing the future of mobility sooner than it appears.”

The judges observed that “the fact that the entrants were able to engineer a relatively low-cost tech solution is very impressive and might be game-changing if the right application is found”.

Barry Mulvey, University College Dublin

Project: Determination of fat content in foods using a handheld near-infrared spectroscopy sensor

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the largest cause of death globally and is a huge financial burden on healthcare systems. A major risk factor for CVD is dietary fat, and if this can be identified in food by the consumer then it can be avoided.

This project determined it is possible to accurately measure fat concentration in foods using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) in a handheld sensor. Self-developed post-processing algorithms manipulate raw spectral data and, consequently, machine learning classification models have been constructed. These can distinguish between vegetable fat spreads, which vary in levels of fat, with an accuracy of over 99 per cent.

There are many laboratory-standard instruments that can determine the chemical make-up of materials but they are typically costly and bulky. The availability of a reliable, low-cost, handheld spectroscopy-based sensor potentially enables the consumer to measure the fat content of their food at the point of purchase and change their diet accordingly. A state-of-the-art NIRS device does not include vegetable fat spreads in its model database, so this innovation would bring new levels of functionality to the device and enable fat content identification.

Barry Mulvey sees a good future for his innovation: “In addition to fats, there is great opportunity to explore the spectral signatures of other important compounds, like carbohydrates, and expand on concepts developed in this project to work on the diminution of other life-threatening and life-altering diseases such as obesity and diabetes.”

“This entry shows great potential as a product and as part of the solution to mitigating a major risk factor for CVD,” said the judges. “The concept is innovative and is at the cutting edge of sensor systems, with a very good chance of becoming a popular product.”

Team of five pioneers at Imperial College London, made up of Andy Ferdinand, Premal Gadhia, Judith Weill and co-led by Shafae Ali and Alfie Mcmeeking

Project: Making the footwear industry sustainable through AR digital skins and 3D-printed biodegradable self-healing technology

The team aim to address this and develop the most sustainable shoe for 2040; this will be achieved by reducing the number of shoes consumed, making footwear fully biodegradable, and simplifying the manufacturing process. The technologies to enable this are augmented reality (AR), biomaterials, and 3D printing.

Decoupling fashion from the materials and manufacture of a shoe is a major step in rethinking sustainability in the industry. Integrated within the shoe is a biodegradable RFID chip to aid with the identification of users, enabling multi-user AR, and the placement of the unique digital footwear mapped to the foot. Given one shoe can now become any, the ‘base’ shoe has been designed to optimise sustainability and comfort.

The team developed the concept of 3D-​printed fully biodegradable nanocellulose footwear with self-healing capabilities to extend its usable lifetime. The shoe is able to regenerate up to 50 per cent of its total surface area, through a user-specific microvascular healing structure. The biopolymer healing fluid is circulated by a biomechanic synced pump system. This was physically prototyped and digitally iterated over 350 simulations. The pump mechanism is an innovation that has scope beyond the sustainability industry.

Team co-leader Shafae Ali comments: “The E&T Awards are important for us as our project mission is focused on creating a sustainable future for the footwear industry. This aligns with the goals of the Young Pioneer category – tackling the major engineering challenges we face as a society today to make tomorrow better – and provides us the network and capability to pursue funding; hence our decision to enter. We are excited to develop the AR technology and explore our novel shoe pump mechanism further, of which its uses go far beyond our current concept in areas such as energy storage.”

The judging panel were full of praise: “This entry has so much going for it. It has the potential to significantly improve the sustainability of the footwear industry and also be a huge commercial success. We like how it has been designed to include various cutting-edge technologies such as augmented reality, biomaterials, and 3D printing.”

Read more about the E&T Innovation Awards.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles