Samsung Solve for Tomorrow 2015 competition: Innovation with a social cause
Samsung Solve for Tomorrow 2015: Innovation with a social cause
Solving tomorrow's problems, today
In a time of multi-billion dollar tech valuations, it can be difficult to associate technology with a more bland – but not less important – issue like social good. Silicon Valley may be the pinnacle of innovation, but it is also home to giant corporations like Google that are known as much for their deep wallets as they are for their successful products that changed how we do things.
Technology makes the world a better place we’ve been told, but did that message get lost somewhere in the pursuit of users and profits?
Well, that’s what Samsung wants to remind the current generation of young entrepreneurs of. Samsung Solve for Tomorrow 2015 is a competition that saw the company leave the stage open to students from local universities, polytechnics, and Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs) to come up with ideas that could improve their communities and create a smart and sustainable future for Singapore. In addition, the top 20 teams were each assigned a mentor, one of a handful of industry experts and leaders, to provide them with a guiding hand (one of them is actually our Editor).
Backed by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), Solve for Tomorrow is Samsung’s way of investing in youth and fostering innovation. The competition was designed with the community in mind, so teams had to identify a social issue and work out how to solve it with technology.
The initial pool of 85 teams was whittled down to just six teams (three each from the university and polytechnic/ITE categories) for the grand finals, where they would get the chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. So on a rainy Wednesday, we trooped down to the Glass Hall at the Singapore Art Museum to check out each of the finalists’ vision for improving society with technology (and also to see who would walk away with that S$10,000 check and a bevy of Samsung's latest mobile gadgets).
Here’s a look at some of the winning teams and what they’ve got cooking that interested us most:
Fighting driver fatigue
Team Sleeping Beauty from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) bagged the top prize in the university category. This meant a S$10,000 cash prize, a four-day study trip to Korea to visit Samsung’s headquarters, and an internship for each of them at Samsung’s Singapore office. On top of that, they each got a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, which is a pretty sweet deal we must say.
Sleeping Beauty also won Samsung’s Social Media Challenge, a new component in this year’s competition, which also netted them a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 each. Teams were judged on the level of engagement they were able to garner on their posts to promote their product. It looks like despite their placid name, this team is generating quite a bit of buzz!
The group’s invention was borne out of a simple idea – to combat driver fatigue and thus help people drive safer. Fatigue driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, which makes it quite appalling that the former hasn’t received as much attention. And as the third most sleep-deprived city in the world, driver fatigue is a very real issue in Singapore.
Which is why the team came up with a prototype app to fight the problem. Dubbed SafeSnooze, the app uses your smartphone’s front camera to track your eye movements and alert you when it detects that you are having trouble staying awake. The app will then prompt you to either keep going or stop. If you decide to carry on, it will play some loud, upbeat music, tell you a jokes, or even blare out a series of sudden alarms to jolt you awake. A paid version of the app will also offer you the option to call a loved one.
Alternatively, if you hit stop in the app, it will pull up a list of places where you can take a quick break, complete with directions on how to get there. The team even envisions future collaborations with eateries, where their restaurant outlets would be listed as possible stops for tired drivers.
Nearly everyone has a smartphone these days, and eye tracking tech is already well-established – just look at Samsung’s Smart Stay feature – so SafeSnooze has remarkably low barriers to adoption. All users need to do is literally just download the app when it’s available.
Assisting the elderly
The first runner-up in the university category and winner of a S$5,000 check was the team Beep8. The National University of Singapore (NUS) team had set their eyes on dealing with Singapore’s aging population, pitching a wrist band that could actively detect falls and send for help wirelessly even when the wearer is unconscious.
The band is called BeepAID, and it would be crammed with all manner of sensors and wireless connectivity options like onboard GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer, and Bluetooth chips. The team also proposed installing ECG pads in the band that would allow it to monitor the wearer’s heart rate, serving as a crucial indicator of health status.
It also syncs with a caregiver’s smartphone, so working adults will be able to keep track of their elderly parents should they need to. Health data is also simplified and displayed on the smartphone, where the app can also parse cumulative data and display health trends over the course of a month.
One unique feature of BeepAID is its social aspect, where users can discover other BeepAID users nearby and connect with them. The app will also send updates about upcoming social activities to users’ phones, thus helping create a sense of community among the elderly.
Helping the blind get around
Team Eyebus came ahead in the polytechnic/ ITE category, walking away with an S$10,000 check and the same goodies as their first-placed university counterparts. As it turns out, simplicity does wonders here because their solution was likewise easy to implement, leveraging on existing technology for novel uses.
Visually-impaired persons currently rely on GPS technology to tell them roughly when their bus is arriving, but this is imprecise and fails to inform riders about the number on the approaching bus. And bearing in mind that 65% of visually-impaired people are above 50 and that the proportion of senior citizens in Singapore will only increase, the Ngee Ann Polytechnic team thus stepped up to the plate with a solution involving RFID tags, an app and a smartphone.
All users need to do is select their bus in the app, after which a voice notification will alert them when the preferred bus service route equipped with the RFID tag is within 50m of the bus stop, thus prompting the user to flag the bus. This beats the current GPS approach, which cannot offer accurate, real-time updates on the approach of a particular bus number.
Like the SafeSnooze app, Eyebus’ solution has low barriers to adoption because of its low cost and use of mature technology. Eyebus estimates that the tags will cost less than a dollar each, which will further boost their adoption.
A Virtual Companion
It looks like the aging population is the problem that is foremost in the minds of many of these contestants. The polytechnic/ ITE category runner-up was team SMARTCare, a group of students from Nanyang Polytechnic.
Their solution involves three components – a smartphone, a wrist band, and a pill box. All three will work in tandem with each other to remind the elderly to take their medication. Furthermore, the wrist band could potentially be used to help the elderly get around. For instance, it would prompt longer crossing times at pedestrian crossings and signal to MRT doors to stay open for longer.
It also comes with a built-in GPS and panic button, so users can easily send out distress signals and get help.
At the crossroads of technology, enterprise, and community
The best solutions are sometimes the simplest ones. To be innovative is not always to invent a brand new thing, but sometimes to just find a new use for an old one.
As Eugene Goh, Samsung’s Vice President of IT & Mobile, noted, “I was impressed with just how enterprising the students were. Many of them even came up with comprehensive plans to take the product market! It’s also heartening to see an uptick in the overall response compared to last year’s.”
In total, Samsung offered more than S$180,000 in prizes, including seed grants, study trips and internships, to participants. Judging from the sheer utility of what came out of the competition, that certainly looks like money well invested. And as the judges noted in their closing remarks, regardless of the outcome, the entire process was a great learning experience for the participants. Everyone walked away a winner, together with a firm validation of the quality of their ideas, and hopefully, a renewed impetus to build on them and improve.