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James Dyson Award 2021: Three young people who plan to change the world

19 November 2021

Three winners of the James Dyson Award have been selected, with inventions that aim to make the world a better place.

The James Dyson Award forms part of a wider commitment by Sir James Dyson, to demonstrate the power of engineers to change the world and discover new ways to improve lives through technology. 

In 2021, the Award received a record number of entries worldwide and Sir James Dyson chose three global winners for the first time, each receiving £30,000 in prize money to support the next stages of their inventions.

The winning inventions

International winner – HOPES, designed by Kelu Yu, Si Li and David Lee

The problem 

This year's International winner of the James Dyson Award was inspired by one of the inventors', Kelu, father's diagnosis of glaucoma. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide: in 2020, about 80 million people have glaucoma worldwide, and this is expected to rise to over 111 million by 2040.

After witnessing her dad’s discomfort and multiple hospital visits, Kelu realised there is a global need for a less invasive and more accessible method for Intraocular Pressure (IOP) monitoring – a critical tool in helping clinicians determine long-term treatment plans and goals.

The solution

HOPES, (which stands for Home eye Pressure E-skin Sensor) is a wearable biomedical device for pain-free, low cost, at-home IOP testing. Powered by patent-pending sensor technology and artificial intelligence, HOPES is a convenient device for users to self-monitor IOP frequently.

After creating a profile in the app, the user wears the HOPES glove with the sensor placed at the fingertip, pressing this against the centre of the eyelid. The fingertip employs a unique sensor architecture that captures dynamic pressure information of the user's eye with sub-millisecond precision. The captured signals are processed by machine learning algorithms to continuously and accurately compute users' IOP.

HOPES – International winner
HOPES – International winner

Data is transmitted via Bluetooth to paired devices or uploaded to the Cloud to be accessed remotely by clinicians. The app prompts users with easy-to-read measurement history and direct links to healthcare systems, allowing them to seek medical help to minimise future symptoms.

Next steps 

The team plan to collaborate with clinicians at the National University Hospital to collect and analyse patients' eye pressure data to train the device's machine learning mode. At the same time, they are working on optimising HOPES's performance, and improving its design.

"We want to improve people's quality of life and aspire to one day apply our research group's sensor technology across different health monitoring applications, such as robotics and biomedical devices," said the team.

Sustainability winner – Plastic Scanner, invented by Jerry de Vos

The problem

Plastic has a bad reputation because it is often not thought to be recyclable and so ends up in landfill, or worse on the beach or in our oceans. However, with the right technologies plastics, can be widely recycled successfully at end of life and transformed into new products, which themselves are long-lasting and durable.

The challenge is identifying the plastic so that it can be recycled correctly, rather than sent to landfill. The technology exists but is expensive and rare. 

The solution

The Plastic Scanner, invented by Industrial and Product Design graduate, Jerry De Vos, from the Netherlands, is this year's Sustainability winner. Plastic Scanner is a handheld device that, when held against plastic, will tell the user what materials it's made from, using infrared light to detect the plastic components.

Plastic Scanner – Sustainability winner
Plastic Scanner – Sustainability winner

Jerry is a member of Precious Plastic, an organisation that aims to reduce plastic waste. Through his work, he has witnessed the negative impact of plastic pollution first-hand and the bottlenecks caused when plastic is not identified and sorted in the recycling process. Around the world, much of this process is done by hand, which takes time and is prone to error. Jerry has seen successful technology used in large factories in the Netherlands where infrared reflections assist with the sorting. This is a vital step for ensuring it is recycled properly. Jerry's mission has been to make this technology available for everyone around the world so they can recycle better.

The Plastic Scanner uses discrete infrared light to detect types of plastic – a new and low-cost approach to traditional infrared spectroscopy. The Scanner is also fully open-source hardware, so anyone can assemble the breakout board and embed the electronics into a handheld device. Open source welcomes feedback and improvements from experts, so the project will continuously improve as more people recycle plastic around the world.

Jerry learnt that much plastic entering our oceans comes from low and middle-income countries. It is his mission to support recycling initiatives in these nations with the way he designed the low-cost and ease of use of the Plastic Scanner. 

"It may be fashionable to demonise plastic but it is a durable and versatile material which has an important role to play [...] Understanding how to recycle plastics correctly is complicated, but Jerry has developed a very effective technology that could put this knowledge into everyone's hands. Jerry is focussing his efforts on supporting developing countries. When I rang Jerry to deliver the news, he was travelling to Algeria to help local communities deploy recycling initiatives, his is inspiring work and I wish him every success with this potentially significant technology." James Dyson, Founder and Chief Engineer at Dyson.

Next steps

Jerry has gathered a team of friends specialising in embedded systems and machine learning to support his creation of new prototypes and pilot the Scanner in both industry and low-resource contexts. Long-term, his goal is to make the project sustain itself, with DIY versions of the Scanner, whilst enriching open-source documentation to make it easier for others to get involved and contribute to his mission.

Medical winner – REACT, invented by Joseph Bentley

The problem

Knife crime is an issue in many countries around the world and last year, with rates of knife crime on the rise in almost all continents, particularly in countries with strict gun laws. In England and Wales alone, there were around 46,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument, which is the highest number of offences since March 2011.

The average wait time for an ambulance in the UK is currently just over eight minutes, yet it can only take five minutes for someone to bleed to death.

REACT – Medical winner
REACT – Medical winner

The solution

The REACT device (which stands for Rapid Emergency Actuating Tamponade) aims to reduce catastrophic blood loss from a knife wound. The current advice for treating stab wounds is never to remove the knife object from the wound if it is still in place. This is because the object is applying internal pressure to the wound site whilst also filling the cavity and preventing internal bleeding. 

Joseph's concept is based on the same principle, the implantable medical-grade silicone balloon tamponade would be inserted into the wound tract by a first responder. The actuator device is connected to the tamponade valve, and the user selects the wound location on the device interface. Squeezing the trigger on the actuator starts the automated inflation sequence, and the tamponade is inflated to a defined pressure based on the wound location to try and stem the bleeding. 

Management techniques like wound packing are sometimes used by paramedics to prevent bleeding from stab wounds. This process involves tightly packing a wound with gauze, which will help to apply pressure internally to the site. According to Joseph, the process can be slow, technical, and extremely painful to the victim, but has, in many cases, proven to be successful in quickly stopping bleeding from knife wounds. Despite this, the technique may not be suitable for wounds in cavities like the abdomen, which is the most common area for knife wounds to appear following a knife attack.

During his prototyping, Joseph found that the simple application and automated inflation procedure of the REACT system could be a more effective method for first responders compared to traditional methods. He claims his prototype Tamponade could potentially be in place and stopping haemorrhage in under a minute, which Joseph estimates could save hundreds of lives a year.

Next steps

Winning a global James Dyson Award prize will inject a further £30,000 into Joseph's project. He aims to commercialise his invention in the coming years, using the Award money for further research and official medical testing into how the REACT invention can become a global solution to knife wounds and hopefully save lives.


Commenting on this year's competition, Sir James Dyson said, "I enjoy seeing the enthusiasm with which young people tackle the world's problems using good design, engineering and science. So promising were this year's entries that we've awarded a third prize, focused on medical invention. Commercialising an idea is very hard – I hope that the awareness that the Award drives, as well as the financial support it provides, will give these ideas a springboard to success."

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