Eleven year-old Rajashree Choudhury can’t understand whypeople insist on using cellphones while they drive. “I’ve read about so many incidents where people get into accidents because they were talking while driving,” she says. This is what led to one of the prize-winning entries at IGNITE 2012, an annual contest that encourages children across the country to come up with out-of-the-box inventions. The competition stresses on the merit of the idea rather than a functional prototype.
Choudhury’s entry forces drivers to keep their phones aside. “The key to the ignition is linked to a wire which is attached to a metal container on the dashboard,” explains the class 5 student from Jharkhand. “The mobile has to be kept in the container. Only the mobile’s pressure can start the car.”
Meeting all the participants at the awards ceremony and learning from them has given Choudhury a lot more ideas. Ideas like hers are what IGNITE, launched in 2008 by the National Innovation Foundation, strives to encourage. “We realised that while creativity abounded, children were doing repetitive projects,” says Nitin Maurya, coordinator of IGNITE. “We decided to start IGNITE to engage with such creative kids, who were observant about the problems around and found unique ways to solve them.” The awards ceremony was held on November 10 at IIM Ahmedabad and the prizes were distributed by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
“It had always been my dream to meet Dr Kalam,” says 14 year-old Jeevan Siddarth from Tamil Nadu, another prize-winner. “I didn’t expect to win, so I was very excited.” On his way to school, Siddarth felt bad for the construction workers he spotted who carried heavy loads with only a towel to protect their heads. “The helmet I designed is cushioned inside and the outer surface curves slightly for better balance,” he explains. “An attachment stretches to the shoulders so the weight is distributed.”
Maurya thinks that contests like IGNITE are important to promote original thinking in children. “They’re impatient about persistent problems, which adults have learnt to live with,” he says.
Designers and engineers work on improving the ideas that come out of the contest. “The ultimate aim is to take them to the market through industrial linkages,” says Maurya. Aditya Joshi hopes to help people working with dangerous substances in factories and laboratories with his idea of spray-on gloves. “It’s basically a liquid which can be sprayed on your hands,” he says. “When it dries, it performs the functions of a glove. Once you’re done using it, you can dispose of it.” His diabetic grandfather was the inspiration behind his innovation. “He has to be very careful when he gets a cut on his hands or feet in case he gets gangrene,” says the class 8 student from Pune.
Another group of class 8 students from New Delhi were concerned with pedestrian accidents. Lakshya Kaura, Naman Jain, Manav Mitra, Utkarsh Hora, Amrit Dang and Sehaj Kataria discovered online that in 2011, 600 people had died in the capital because of accidents related to people wearing headphones on the street. “If there were so many deaths in Delhi, we wondered how many more had occurred in the rest of the country,” says Hora. Their solution? Headphones with sensors. “When you’re listening to music and a car honks or even if it comes within 5 metres of you, the sensor in your headphones will sound an alert,” says Hora, guaranteeing that pedestrians don’t have to pick between entertainment and safety.