Young inventors urged to vie for 2014 €120,000 Dyson prize

9 Apr 2014

(Left to right) Mark Culleton with his robot hand design; Dyson engineer Nick Schneider; and engineering student Aoife Considine

Irish science and engineering students have been called upon to unleash their creative energies and vie for the 10th international James Dyson Award, which has a total prize fund of €120,000.

Traditionally, Irish students have punched above their weight in the annual James Dyson Award competition.

Students who enter this year will compete with students from 18 countries to win the top prize of €36,000 and a further €12,000 for their university. The total prize fund this year is stg£100,000 (€120,000).

Last year, a Dublin student’s sports gum shield invention to prevent second impact syndrome in athletes made the top 20 global finals.

In 2009, a Carlow student made the final stages of the global judging with an hydraulic wheelchair brake invention, to solve the difficulties wheelchair users face.

In 2004, the winner of the Irish stage of the first award, Paddy Moloney from Carlow IT, invented a lightweight cast for broken limbs after seeing his dad experience difficulties with the heavy traditional plaster casts. Moloney is now a senior engineer at Dyson.

Last year’s international winners, the Titan Arm team, invented a battery-powered upper-body robotic arm, which augments arm strength, to rehabilitate people with back injuries, rebuild muscle and relearn motor control.

Invent something that solves a problem

Last week, Dyson engineer Nick Schneider from Dyson UK headquarters, addressed the Trinity School of Engineering and challenged students to think differently to solve problems.

Schneider works in New Product Innovation. This team explored new Dyson technologies, building proof-of-concept rigs to understand capabilities and limitations. Specifically, Schneider has worked on the Air Multiplier range, as well as floor care products.

Speaking with, Schneider said the purpose of the annual Dyson award is to support invention.

“It’s not easy being a young engineer – research and development costs money and has no guarantee of success. The award gives valuable access to funding with a €120,000 prize fund supporting early stage development and helping bright ideas get off the ground.

“Making the world aware of an invention is just as tricky. The award can raise the profile of young inventors and give them access to angel investors who might otherwise overlook their ideas. Last year’s UK winner, Renewable Wave Power, has already gone on to secure investment from major energy companies for an invention that harnesses wave energy from multiple directions.”

The heritage of Irish entrants

The James Dyson Award receives plenty of strong entries from Ireland every year, many of whom make it onto the international shortlist.

“We’ve had intelligent gum shields that monitor brain activity, hydraulic wheelchairs for those with disabilities, and snowboards that get rid of fixed foot bindings. All different, but all clever in the problems they solve,” Schneider said.

“Ireland’s best universities place an emphasis on combining technical engineering knowledge with creative thinking, using an iterative design process along the way – the perfect recipe for invention.”

Asked what kind of applications from students inspire the greatest reaction, Schneider said: “We set a broad brief – design something that solves a problem.

“The problems young engineers solve might be global problems or everyday frustrations, but they should all have a significant and practical purpose with sustainability in mind.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years