HBO-ICT Students Join The Challenge against Environmental Pollution, Poverty and Inequality

A better future: It’s what we all want. But that is easier said than done, because how can you truly contribute? Well, students of the HBO-ICT degree programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences have some ideas. From a drone that measures nitrogen to a machine that helps your plants grow: Over the past few months, the students have been working hard to make their own innovations a reality. At the Expo for The Challenge held on Wednesday, January 29, they gathered in the Atrium to present their sustainable inventions to an interested crowd.

Over 500 HBO-ICT students from all THUAS locations (The Hague, Zoetermeer and Delft) put in a great deal of their time and energy to create innovative solutions for one or more Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals were formulated by Unicef and are geared towards ending issues such as poverty, inequality and climate change. Examples include: How can we motivate people to recycle more? How can you ensure that people with physical disabilities are able to use your product? How do you create a product that will allow people to grow enough crops? These were some of the questions posed by The Challenge.

During The Challenge, first-year students complete a full IT course in only six months. They start with ideas for solutions, go through the business and security elements of a startup, and ultimately build a full prototype. This course helps develop the students into so-called T-shaped professionals; employees with a broad, general knowledge base and expertise in a specific subdomain of the IT field.

Moreover, it teaches students that IT cannot merely be used to get rich by creating popular apps or optimising corporate processes, but also to make considerable contributions to a better world.

Fighting Nitrogen and Harvesting Vegetables

From all the project groups, the jury selected three finalists to go head to head for first place and the silver trophy. Before the expo opened, the finalists pitched their innovations to a full Auditorium.

Group 1B from Zoetermeer created a drone that provides insight into the amount of nitrogen emissions. This is a relevant issue in regards to the recent farmers’ protests as farmers can use this drone to access their usage data, to compare their data with the KNMI (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute) data and then to adapt their decision-making accordingly.

Group 5E from The Hague was fed up with all the plastics littering our street and asked themselves why handing in plastics is not yet rewarded. To enable this solution, they made a deposit machine for plastic bags.

Group 1C invented an automatic pump that does not only water vegetables, but also logs how much water the plants need to grow.

User Equality

The Expo showcased a broad offering of IT initiatives that contribute to a better world. Besides the environmentally-centred solutions, there were also innovations to battle social inequality. Jesse Wienholts is a blind IT student whose mission is to improve the lives of blind people everywhere. During his internship at NS, he worked on a voice-guided travel planner for Google Assistant: a programme you can control with your voice to help you navigate your train travel. Jesse also works at Envision, which developed an app that uses AI technology to describe your surroundings to you based on photographs you take. He hopes that everyone will become more and more dedicated to increasing products’ user-friendliness for visually and hearing impaired people.

The Winning Initiative

After the presentations, guests could vote for their favourite initiatives by applauding. Group 5E, consisting of Liso Tunali, Kevin Zhou, Brian Spit and Javed Vishnudatt, was applauded the loudest and their plastic bag deposit machine was awarded first place.

The machine works like any other deposit machine: “You return your plastic bags just like you return your plastic and glass bottles. You simple scan your bag and leave it in the collection bin. The machine then prints your receipt and you’re awarded a refund.”This system does not only benefit the consumer: “Supermarkets can collect the plastic bags and sell them to companies who turn them into refined oil, so they may be upcycled into reusable plastic.”

The project contributes to the Responsible Consumption & Production and Life Below Water SDGs.