Finalists chosen in global engineering challenge to save humanity

A hybrid multi-crop greenhouse dryer, portable desalination: See the ideas that could save lives around the world.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Earlier this year, during the first wave of the pandemic, I wrote about tech heavyweights joining forces to challenge socially minded engineers and hardware innovators to do something to end hunger and make clean water more accessible. Now finalists have been announced for the global competition, and they showcase an impressive diversity of ideas and innovative solutions.

The driving idea behind Innovate for Impact: Siemens Design Challenge, which is a collaboration between Siemens, Engineering for Change (E4C), and The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), is that with software and a computer, anyone, anywhere, has the tools to address the world's greatest challenges. The challenge got underway shortly after the competition announcement in February. Participants have ranged from engineering students and practicing engineers to faculty, entrepreneurs and global development practitioners from 34 countries, representing 43 universities. 

In all, more than 220 solutions came in addressing the core objectives: to end hunger and make clean water accessible for everyone. Of those, four finalists have just been announced in each of the two tracks.

"When we launched this initiative, none of us had any idea that a global pandemic would soon bring society to a standstill. I've been encouraged not only by the strong response we've received from innovators worldwide, but by witnessing people leverage this opportunity during such challenging times to collaborate virtually, united under a common mission to serve society," says Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA. "We received brilliant submissions from more than 30 countries, and our eight finalists exemplify Siemens' core belief: that a combination of ingenuity nurtured with the right digital tools enables us to expand what's humanly possible."

Among the projects chosen in the hunger track is a hybrid multi-crop greenhouse dryer, the brainchild of Mobolaji Oluyimika Omobowale of Nigeria. "Solar drying at a large scale that mitigates post-harvest loss of grains, fruit, and vegetables amongst sub-Saharan African farmers," Omobowale writes in his precis.

Chuma Asuzu of Canada proposed a standalone refrigerated unit for transporting fresh vegetables that will assist farmers, distributors, and retailers in Nigeria. A five-person team representing the U.S. and Peru proposed a reliable, sustainable charcoal and ethanol refrigeration unit that increases food safety for rural farmers and consumers in Peru. 

Tackling the challenge of making clean water accessible, a Colombian team proposed a ready-to-assemble device for solar water desalination augmented with an education strategy to assure social appropriation of the technology for the Parenskat-Wayuu ethnic community in the arid region of La Guajira, Colombia. Desalination, not surprisingly, was at the heart of proposals from teams from Ecuador, the U.S., and Germany, as well. An entrant named Daniel Hodges from the U.S. proposed a wind-powered vacuum distillation system to help water-stressed coastal small families around the world.

"By applying human-centered design thinking and powerful digital technologies, engineers and other innovators will be well equipped to address the challenges of clean water and zero hunger and improve the quality of life around the world," E4C President Iana Aranda said back in February.  We are grateful and fortunate for Siemens' support in this vital endeavor, and excited to see the proposed solutions."

Winners of the challenge will be announced in mid-September. Each winning solution will be awarded $10,000, and we'll update this story with more as we have it.

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