Earlier this month, the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards took place in London, showcasing everything from tiny farming robots to an innovative new way of contacting emergency services.
Now in its eighth year, the event was created by technology access charity AbilityNet to celebrate digital technology projects designed to improve people’s lives and benefit society. Entries can be new or existing ideas, and can come from anyone, such as a charity, business or individual.
In 2016, for example, nine-year-old Arnav Sharma won the Tech4Good People’s Award for his asthma-managing digital device, the AsthmaPi, while in this year’s event, projects from Microsoft and Facebook both made the finals.
Awards are split into nine categories, each highlighting a different strand of digital innovation: accessibility; connected society; young pioneer; ‘Tech4Good for Africa’; community impact; digital health; digital skills; digital volunteer of the year, and; community impact.
A panel of 23 judges from across the technology and charity sectors selected 28 finalists chosen from over 250 entries, while the final category – the People’s Award – was chosen by the public.
Here’s a rundown of this year’s winners.
The AbilityNet Accessibility Award was won by Be My Eyes, a free app for iOS and Android designed to help people with sight loss live more independently by assisting them in completing everyday tasks.
The app works by connecting visually impaired users to sighted volunteers via video link. The volunteers then answer questions from the user, who might want to know, for example, whether the date on a food expiry label has passed, or what a nearby road sign says.t
An additional feature is ‘Specialized Help’, which lets companies use Be My Eyes to provide tailored customer service to users with a visual impairment. Users can contact the Microsoft Disability Desk directly through the app to ask for help with Microsoft products.
As reported in e-Access Bulletin earlier this year, Be My Eyes has announced a partnership with transportation app Moovit, to help people with sight loss use public transport around cities.
The winner of the Digital Health Award was TapSOS, a non-verbal method of contacting emergency services through an app. Designed primarily for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, speech impaired, or in a situation where it’s difficult to speak, TapSOS lets users set up a profile with their medical history, which gets shared with emergency services when the user contacts them. GPS provides a caller’s exact location to emergency services, making it easier to send out a response vehicle.
Small Robot Company won the Connected Society Award for their miniature farm robots, designed to automate elements of the planting, feeding, watering and weeding process on a farm in a lightweight, environmentally friendly and cost-effective way.
The Water Watcher was the winner of the BT Young Pioneer Award. The device fits on to a tap and uses an alarm and timer system to alert users if the tap has been left on too long. Powered by a simple BBC Micro:bit computer (a winner in the 2016 Tech4Good Awards), the Water Watcher is particularly useful for people with dementia or dyslexia.
The Unlocking Talent Through Technology scheme, which provides solar-powered tablet computers and literacy apps for schools in Malawi, won the Comic Relief Tech4Good for Africa Award. Led by international development organisation VSO, the Unlocking Talent programme has reached 90,000 schoolchildren so far, and has been integrated into Malawi’s National Education Policy framework.
The Community Impact Award was won by MOMO (Mind of My Own), an app to help keep children and young people safe. MOMO encourages users to record thoughts, feelings and observations, which can help them communicate about difficult or dangerous situations which they might not feel able to discuss elsewhere.
A ‘wayfinding’ app for people with learning impairments was voted for by the public to win the Tech4Good People’s Award. WaytoB helps guide users who may not be able to fully operate other navigation or mapping systems. The app works through a smartwatch, giving users clear directions on a specified journey, and letting them know when to cross a road or which bus to catch, for example.
Crucially, WaytoB is used in harmony by a ‘navigator’ and ‘partner’, such as a family member or friend. Journeys are pre-programmed by the ‘partner’, who can track where the navigator is through the app.
The Digital Skills Award was won by Generation Code, a national scheme to help develop coding skills in young people around the UK. People aged 16-25 who already have coding knowledge are trained to become ‘Code Champions’, who then provide coding activities to people aged 11-19 in their local area.
The importance of coding was also recognised in the Digital Volunteer of the Year Award, presented to Anna Holland Smith. Anna is involved with a number of inclusive coding initiatives, including Manchester’s Codebar, which provides programming opportunities for underrepresented groups.
Read more about all of this year’s winners and other projects at the Tech4Good Awards website.