A team of boys with autism from Gowerton School in West Glamorgan has beaten teams from across the UK to be named the Longitude Explorer People’s Choice Award winner in a public vote, winning £5,000 for their school.
The team’s winning solution, Theo the Therapy Dog, is a robotic therapy dog that supports other autistic people who want to become more independent.
Ben, Ethan, Reuben and Charlie, the members of Team STF Gowerton were named the People’s Choice Award winners at a virtual awards ceremony introduced by Science Minister, Amanda Solloway. More than 13,000 votes were cast by the public with Theo The Therapy Dog coming out on top.
The therapy dog has a built-in artificial intelligence and helps autistic people to feel more secure in unfamiliar surroundings and in places where they may experience sensory overload. Not only is the dog programmed to limit ‘flight’ behaviours by sounding an alarm, but it also interrupts repetitive behaviours to increase the user’s independence and self-esteem. The aim of the AI therapy dog is to promote social interaction, improve cognitive difficulties and provide a safe and cheaper alternative to a real therapy dog.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:
“This year’s Longitude Explorer Prize has demonstrated the very best of British ingenuity, with original and diverse entries being submitted from every corner of the United Kingdom. I congratulate all the finalists and particularly the winners, Team Iscort, whose impressive smart assistant app will help older people to live a more independent life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this next generation of innovators.”
Constance Agyeman, Head of International Development and Communities, Nesta Challenges said:
“When we launched the Longitude Explorer Prize in September 2019, we had no idea of the extraordinary events that would impact every part of our lives this year. We would like to thank all of the young teams and their Team Champions and mentors who persevered in difficult circumstances to make this year’s prize a success. Science, technology, engineering and maths are essential subjects for all young people in the global knowledge economy especially as the world rebuilds and repairs. Pairing STEM with entrepreneurial skills empowers the next generation to transform bright ideas into real-world solutions, to become the successful innovators and industry leaders of the future.”
Launched last September, the Longitude Explorer Prize 2020 called on young people aged 11-16 to design technology enabled solutions incorporating AI, to some of the great challenges we face – climate change, an ageing population, living healthier lives, and future transport – under the banners of living greener, living longer, living better and living together. More than 800 young people from across the UK entered ideas ranging from robotic rovers to deliver medicines to people stuck at home to devices that help people reclaim urban wasteland and build farms.
The finalists were named in March 2020 before the full impact of Covid-19 had been felt. Despite the challenges of school closures and lockdown the finalists continued to work remotely to develop their ideas and produce prototypes with the help of dedicated teachers, supervising adults, mentors, and AI and design experts ahead of the judging on 8 July.