Students scoop funding to develop prototype to tackle litter issues

Students are celebrating after winning a prestigious University of Birmingham competition aiming to find solutions to global problems.

anthonyfongMechanical Engineering students Lucie Gale and Anthony Fong, from the University’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and the College of Social Sciences’ Economics student Shubhansh Bharati were an interdisciplinary team which scooped first prize at the Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge 2020.

The competition, this year themed on ‘Global Cities, Global Challenges’, is open to both undergraduate and postgraduate students and is sponsored by Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir David Eastwood who also chairs the competition’s judging panel.  The panel also consisted of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) Professor Kathleen Armour, and Simon Purkess, Partner at KMPG - a global network of professional firms providing audit, tax, and advisory services.

The competition launched in January and saw teams of students from across the University being supported by academics and business representatives to develop a novel solution to a variety of real-world challenges. 

As part of the challenge, the teams had to develop an impactful video to pitch their idea to the judging panel, who then whittled the entries down to the top four. These teams went through to a virtual live final, held earlier this month, and saw each student group engaging in a lively Q&A debate with the panel and audience.  

Lucie, Anthony, and Shubhansh were crowned winners for their ‘Bin It Spit It Latch’ invention to stop rubbish falling or being blown out of wheelie bins, which they turned into a prototype using 3D printing technology.  The trio will now be able to access funding to make their idea a reality.

Lucie said: “The Challenge was very memorable, we even camped outside our house – before Covid-19 lockdown kicked in - late at night during a storm to record the prototype in action.

“It was like being on The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den all at the same time. Both challenging and fun, I was definitely pushed out of my comfort zone but I have gained so much experience both in an engineering aspect as well as in a business one.”

Anthony added: “I think engineering students should seriously consider joining future Vice-Chancellor's Challenges as the practical skills and the problem solving mindset that are developed as part of an engineering degree are a great addition to any multidisciplinary team.”

Shubhansh said: “The Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge provides an opportunity for those who have entrepreneurial dreams to bring them to light through a rigorous and analytical approach with cohesive teamwork. We have gained invaluable skills towards our future career aspects along with the momentum to carry our idea forward.”

Competition runners-up was also a team consisting of a combination of College of Engineering and Physicals Sciences and College of Social Sciences students, who impressed judges with their idea named ‘Project Anteater’, which proposed the development of a colony of artificial intelligence robots working together to clean up landfills and sort rubbish.

Students who want to take part in next year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge, and academics who would like to mentor a team or promote the competition to their students should contact the Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge team at vcchallenge@contacts.bham.ac.uk. Businesses or public sector organisations interested in helping students develop their ideas should also make contact via the same email address.  Staff and students can also read more about the Challenge at https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/vcchallenge