Friday 29 November 2019

The Graduates Work on Saving our (Green)Seas

Two graduates, bleary eyed from the events of the night before, board a train bound for Didcot, en route to Culham science centre. Thoughts of the last few months bounce around: Late night report writing, fancy dinners, robot crabs. One was pretty sure there was a dolphin involved at some point. Who were they? Why were they there? What’s this about robot crabs? This blog post is a deep dive into the strange and inspired minds of our grads, and it starts in the dead of winter, with a group of young engineers huddled round a meeting room table sheltering from the cold... 

Former graduate, now electrical engineer, Stevie Wray had brought us together to let us know of an exciting opportunity: The IET Young Professionals Global challenge. As UKAEA graduates our passion for the world around us extends, generally, far beyond the local area of fusion energy. This is sometimes difficult to demonstrate but we try to take whatever opportunities come our way, so the scheme took upon it with gusto. 

The IET global challenge is not one but two distinct competitions, with the aim of developing innovative solutions to real world problems, this year – the increasing levels of plastic waste in our oceans. The first, GreenSeas, competition was to design a remotely controlled all-terrain machine that is capable of picking up cigarette butts from the surface of a beach. The second, Greenpeace, was to use modern technologies and techniques to design a new alternative to single use plastics, either reducing or reusing packaging for transport for a single class of product. 

Teams were expected to provide a concept design document for their idea, which would be judged against the other entries from across the world. For each challenge, 4 teams progress to the final round of competition, which involves a second round of submission for their design. Aside from the prestige, each winning team would win £500 and a trophy to commemorate their efforts, as well as an invitation to the IET innovation awards. 

The graduate scheme produced four teams across the challenges, one tackling the Greenpeace challenge and three on GreenSeas. Teams BClean (made up of James Lawton-Smith, Ollie Moore, Ed Litherland-Smith, and Adomas Lukenskas), Baywatchers (Helena Livesey, Jonathon Witty, AJ Morgan, and George Fulton), and RACE (Jimmy Measures, Mike Robson, Ben Quirk, and Sohabe Richyal) went for GreenSeas. While Pete Cooper, Leah Morgan, Chris Stuart, and James O’Callaghan tackled the Greenpeace challenge with the inspired team name of “Life in plastic, it's not fantastic - Aqua 1997”. 

Figure 1 - Team Baywatchers 

Figure 2 - Team BClean 

Figure 3 - Team RACE (Remote Handling for Cigarette Extraction) 

Several weeks passed with the teams drawing up a range of designs and possible solutions, streamlining down into a short report submitted in March. With all the teams submitted, all we could do was wait with bated breath for the result. 
Nearly two months passed with no word. Spirits were low, people had started to accept their losses. Then, in May, whispering started coming out of an email from the IET. As the rumours bounced around we gradually realised that not one, not two, not all four, but three of our teams had made it through to the finals. Sadly ‘Life in plastic…’s  attempt to take the judges around the world with them had failed, and while I’m sure if they could turn back time they’d do it differently this was as far as they got. 

For the rest of the teams simply getting to this point was a huge achievement. Of the teams from across the world three of the four finalists for the GreenSeas challenge were from UKAEA. However, we were now all faced with a gruelling task. The first submission wasn’t enough for the IET it seemed, they needed more. A 15-page 7500-word report, a 10-slide presentation complete with slogans and logos, and a two-minute ‘elevator pitch’ presenting your solution to the judges. Gone were the relaxed attitudes of the first round, we all knew our competition and this time, it was personal.  

What followed was two months of intense testing, filming, writing, and editing. Now that something really seemed on the line, secrecy became the name of the game. All through RACE people were constantly checking over their shoulders, alt-tabbing when others wandered past, and speaking in hushed tones. The final sprint was intense, with most teams having their first real experience with video editing, cutting down hours of footage, takes and retakes, into a punchy two-minute format. The report was no different, with all teams finding that while writing 7500 words was easy, writing only 7500 words, and still adequately saying all that needed to be said about the designs was a real challenge. Submissions came down to the wire, with at least one team staying up past midnight to submit (the deadline was 00:00 GMT after all). 

Rather than detail each of the solutions individually, why not look at each of the elevator pitches? First up, team BClean and their solution, Carla. 

Secondly, team RACE (Remote Applications in Cigarette Extraction) with CiERo. 

And finally, team Baywatchers with KRABB-E. 


After that deadline things started to go back to normal while we waited for the results.  
The first news of results dropped on the 30th of August, the elegant trammel design of Cierra hadn’t won, and neither had the environmentally controlled CARLA. Fortunately, the mysterious 4th finalist team hadn’t won either, team Baywatchers, with the cute and cuddly KRABB-E had managed to clinch the title.  

Figure 4: The losers were gracious in defeat 

Various filming sessions were put in place for the news to be pushed out to the press. The IET magazine, and local Oxfordshire news all published pieces, and UKAEA put out it’s own overview of the competition. The IET even made a scale model of KRABB-E, to bring along and show off to the press, which we may get to keep!  

The real prize, however, was yet to come. The winners had been invited to the IET innovation awards, hosted by Alex Brooker. This prestigious event showcased all kinds of innovations from across the industry, and was the first chance the Baywatchers got to really celebrate their win (pub trip notwithstanding). The event was a black tie gala dinner with attendees from across the world, even the winners of the Greenpeace challenge were there, flown in in from Maylasia. An enjoyable time was had by all, and even KRABB-E dressed up for the occasion! 

Figure 5:The Baywatchers and KRABB-E, along with Lizzie Truett and Alex Brooker 

And with that we return to the following morning, with Helena Livesey and Jonathon Witty heading back towards oxford, KRABB-E in tow.  

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