By Daniel Gaffney
As nurses, carers and doctors continue to save lives on the front line, the majority of UK students are idle, having been dismissed from their universities, and left to complete their studies through tedious remote assessments.
However, a group of UK students have made the most of new-found time on their hands, by taking part in the COVID Challenge.
The COVID Challenge is an online competition that encouraged students to design technology that could mitigate the economic, social and medical impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge’s organisers issued an immediate call to arms for students of all disciplines to pool their creative expertise, and create projects that could help reduce the burden of the pandemic on society.
The competition was organised by alumnus of the McKinsey and Company’s summer leadership academy. Adam Flanagan, 18, co-founder of Future Labs and part of the team leading the initiative – explains the team’s motivation:
“The pandemic we are currently faced with is probably the closest our generation will get to wartime. Whilst Britain’s key workers battle around the clock in unimaginable circumstances, young people must assume our own responsibility and do what we can to help mitigate the impact of the crisis”.
Adam teamed up with Anoushka Patel (18) who is an Undergraduate Engineer at Dyson, and Mark Kleyner (20), a 2nd-year Geography & Economics student at the University of Edinburgh.
Sinead O’Sullivan, a Harvard Business School fellow and a member of MIT’s Covid-19 Response Task Force, sat on the initiative’s judging panel: “We are facing an unprecedented crisis that can be aided by innovative thinking around costs, logistics, production or manufacturing. Students are exactly the kind of highly-skilled, creative thinkers that we need to engage with urgently to reimagine technical solutions to grand societal challenges, and I loved being a part of the conversation.”
Overall, 221 students from universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial collaborated remotely, across 5 continents, and produced 32 separate proposals that could help alleviate the effects of Covid-19.
The winning project, Urbani, is an app designed to help people avoid the most densely populated areas – and therefore reduce the likelihood of infection – when making necessary journeys, for example to the supermarket. Alexandre Shinebourne, a member of the winning team and Warwick University student, explains “It was incredibly stimulating to work together with students I have never met on a project with such relevance to a global issue.”
In second place was the ‘Updateable Immunity Passport’, an app-based project centred around immunity passports – a concept described as “vital to opening up the economy” by Sinead O’Sullivan, a member of MIT’s COVID Task Force who signed up to sit on the judging panel.
Since the pandemic began, students have been overlooked. The rest of the education system in the UK has some form of contingency plan, but there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding students in the UK. They are forced to pay for empty accommodation, and the second semester of this year has been practically non-existent for most students, given that the lecturers went on strike just before the pandemic worsened. Altogether, it is great to see students rolling their sleeves up and taking the initiative in fighting the pandemic.
All the top submissions can be seen at: https://www.covidchallenge.co.uk/submissions