Young Minds Steering The Future Of Mobility 

Students are gearing up for this year’s annual PA Raspberry Pi competition

For the past seven years, PA Consulting has challenged students across the UK to find innovative solutions to the world’s biggest problems using a compact computer called the Raspberry Pi. This year, 180 teams split across four age categories used the device to consider how to improve travel and transport. Tomorrow afternoon, the winners will be announced at an exhibition and awards ceremony held at Code Node, London.

D/SRUPTION spoke to Anita Chandraker, Global Head of Innovation at PA Consulting, and Jonathan Midgley, Director of Engineering at Trainline, to find out why students are central to successful problem solving.

Travelling towards better transport

Every year, participants in PA Consulting’s Raspberry Pi competition are given six months to come up with solutions to meet the challenges of a specific theme. This year’s topic focused on travel and transport – a fast changing space that affects us all.

“It’s not just about the vehicles, but the experience as well, so for example, maybe solutions could be developed to make it easier for people who are visually impaired or have some difficulties,” says Chandraker.

While Chandraker would love to see the next autonomous vehicle roll in through the doors, she explains that often the biggest issues surround logistics and safety. This is something that students are clearly aware of, choosing to address these concerns in many of the entries.

As part of the drive to make a lasting impact on the students that enter the competition, this year PA Consulting has worked with three supporters: Rolls-Royce, Highways England, and Transport for London. As part of the winners’ prizes (including £1,000 per team), Transport for London will invite winning teams to an experience day tailored for each category. For the secondary school winners, for example, TfL will hold an inspiring engineering day at the London Transport Museum where they can meet TfL engineers and understand what a career looks like in the organisation. Importantly, the opportunities aren’t just for finalists.

“With Rolls-Royce, we invited a broader group of students of all ages to come along and get hands on experience with coding,” says Chandraker. “We’ve also got five big events that will happen after the awards day where we invite schools to take part in sessions that we are co-hosting with the Economist Educational Foundation. Groups will think critically about the issues in the world around us to find potential solutions. It’s a full day workshop environment.”

With judges from organisations such as Network Rail, NHS Digital, Virgin Atlantic and Trainline, the awards day is also an opportunity for students to talk to senior level innovators. Not only is this inspiring for the students, but it gives businesses the chance to consider problems from a completely different angle.

According to Jonathan Midgley of Trainline, one of the expert judges, getting involved with the competition complements the company’s commitment to improve the travel experience, and encourage younger generations to think critically about how this might be done.

“We need to empower more people to take up careers in technology and kickstarting their interest from a young age can really make the difference in helping them onto this path,” says Midgley. “Initiatives such as PA’s Raspberry Pi competition can inspire young people and help to build their confidence to look further into what a career in tech could offer them.”

This year, the competition was also run in the Netherlands, culminating in an awards ceremony hosted in Amsterdam on the 18th of April. The European expansion is hoped to equip even more students with the tools, technology, and framework needed for tackling today’s most challenging problems.

Tech for good, tech for all

At around the same time that the competition first began, UK schools began to change their approach to information technology. A new computing curriculum brought in coding lessons for children as young as five in an attempt to close the skills gap, while a variety of extra curricular coding clubs sprung up. Although the gap still exists, corporate-led initiatives like the PA Raspberry Pi competition are helping to encourage more students to consider coding.

Getting to the PA Raspberry Pi competition final isn’t just about being able to code, though. As well as a sound technological understanding, judges also look for a range of team skills including communication and ingenuity.

“What we see is that it’s not just about the people who have great technical skills. You need them, but actually to deliver outcomes what you need are teams with a rich mix of skills and capabilities, and the ability to work together to come up with solutions,” says Chandraker.

Greener, cleaner mobility

Given the high profile of the pollution problem, it comes as no surprise that sustainability emerged as a a major theme in the teams’ entries. Sustainability safeguards the future that younger generations will live in. Part of the motivation behind the competition – which, in 2018, was based on sustainability – is to start that conversation. What does your future look like, and how can you create it?

“Organisations need to focus on how we can enable and support the next generation to maintain a sustainable lifestyle and continue to educate them on how their choices can impact the environment, such as opting for more sustainable modes of transport in order to reduce CO2 emissions. At Trainline, we’re focused on making sustainable forms of transport more accessible through making the experience of planning and booking rail and coach journeys easier,” says Midgley.

The end goal

For Chandraker, the competition is ultimately about giving students a platform to experience innovation through technology in a practical way. Academic environments, she explains, don’t always show students how the skills they are learning can be applied in the working world. Not only this, but the annual event enriches the talent pool of young, curious, and creative minds.

“One of the biggest challenges that we and many organisations have is attracting the talent that is needed at a time when every organisation is having to adapt and evolve in the face of disruption – disruption caused by the pace of technology change, new business models, or ever more demanding customers,” she says.

As well as influencing students’ attitudes to coding and their future career paths, the PA Raspberry Pi competition taps into fresh thinking about persisting problems. For Chandraker, it’s about shining a spotlight on different ways of doing things, free from corporate constraints and red tape.

“If you look at some of the ideas that come from these children, the problems that they see and the solutions that they think of, I do think we constrain ourselves as we get older. We need to take more notice, because there are plenty of problems to be solved in the world. If we can find ways to engage more creative brains, then I’m sure that will help.”

For more information about how your organisation can get involved with the Raspberry Pi competition, visit https://www.paconsulting.com/events/raspberry-pi-competition/, and to find out which team’s solutions win this year’s competition, sign up for our weekly newsletter.