Learning From The Next Generation: PA Consulting’s Raspberry Pi Competition 2019

Students can teach business leaders a thing or two about innovation

Organisations across sectors are constantly trying to ‘think differently’ about the challenges of their industries. But how can this be done in risk averse companies where practicalities can so often stifle ideas? Getting over these barriers means looking outside of the organisation… And not necessarily to other businesses.

On the 30th of April, the final of PA Consulting’s seventh annual Raspberry Pi Competition took place at CodeNode, London. The competition, open to school age students across the UK, tasks applicants to come up with real world solutions using Raspberry Pi microcomputers. By encouraging students to apply knowledge in a practical way, the competition showcases the best in fresh thinking.

A triumph in transportation

This year, a record number of 180 teams competed to create solutions for the theme of travel and transport. Entries were whittled down to 12 finalists across four age groups, with an overall winner chosen from each category. Entries ranged from a voice activated bus stop to an interactive travel companion called Travel Ted. A particularly ambitious project from Egglescliffe C of E Primary School, County Durham, presented an automated travel buddy for astronauts travelling to Mars.

“We believe we can make a big difference and make the world a better place with engineering and technology,” said Adhya Rajarahn of King Edward VI Grammar School, Essex, whose team developed a tracker to measure gas emissions in real time.

As well as showing off their hard work, finalists spent the day taking part in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities. They were also able to speak to business leaders during speed networking sessions. Once the judges had spoken to each team, guests and competitors took their seats for the closing awards ceremony.

After chatting to students in the audience about their experience of the competition, Tomorrow’s World presenter and TeenTech CIC CEO Maggie Philbin announced the winning teams. The award for academic years four to six went to St Mary’s School, Horsham, for their ‘Park and Stride’ RFID scanner solution that makes walking to school safer. The winner of the academic years seven to nine category was Lady Eleanor Holles School, London. The team developed a Brainy Baby Belt that alerts drivers when the belt is unclipped. Westminster School, London, won the academic years 10 to 11 category with their interactive cycling gloves for safer urban navigation. Finally, the sixth form and college award for academic years 12 to 13 was presented to Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn, Carmarthenshire, for a smart traffic light system that calculates the most efficient traffic light cycle timings based on different changeable factors.

A better way to innovate

While the event gave students a chance to apply their skills to real world problems, it was also an opportunity for guests to see how unbridled thinking can put problems into a new perspective. Instead of worrying about budgets and shareholders, the teams developed their ideas without constraints.

“I was amazed by the drive of the students in the youngest category,” said Simon Reed, Head of Technology and Data at Transport for London’s Surface Transport. “They can take a completely different view to develop practical solutions with unconstrained thinking. It’s a much better way of doing innovation. Innovation is not technology – it’s thinking.”

One of the competition’s central goals is to show that everyone can apply their skills to life changing technology, whether that be in STEM subjects or not.

“We worked better as a team by bringing in lots of different skill sets,” said Laura Oddy of Lady Eleanor Holles School.

Joshua Crabb of Hack Horsham technology club, the only finalist team that wasn’t from a specific school, agreed. “You have to work with the different skills you have to solve the problems of the world using technology. We worked well as a team and built friendships, even though we’ve all come from different schools.”

For Cosma Papouis, parent and facilitator of Hack Horsham, PA Consulting’s Raspberry Pi Competition fills in the gaps left by the traditional curriculum.

“Teachers understand what the curriculum does and doesn’t do – it hasn’t really changed since I was at school. We started our tech club to allow for that practical application,” he said. “PA Consulting have been brilliant. We had everything we needed.”

Life after Raspberry Pi

As well as receiving £1,000 and a giant trophy, each winning team will take part in a curated experience day hosted by Transport for London. This is a chance for students to really understand what a career in STEM looks like, and to see how the organisation operates. It’s also an opportunity for Transport for London to gather ideas from the talented teams.

But it’s not all business – each team’s project brought them closer together as individuals, creating lasting friendships and an ability to collaborate cooperatively. Collaboration is fundamental to success in business today, and yet it’s still so difficult to achieve. PA Consulting’s team-based competition nurtures and rewards collaborative skills before students have entered the working world, equipping them with the confidence to share their ideas. So, instead of working with a startup, perhaps your organisation should be working with a school…

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