Nine-year-old inventor wins award for next-generation Smart Stick for the blind

BT has announced that nine-year-old Mihika Sharma has won the 2019 BT Young Pioneer Award, part of the AbilityNet Tech4Good awards, for her next-generation Smart Stick.

As partners of the Tech4Good awards, BT celebrates ingenious ideas and individuals who are transforming society and helping to tackle the UK’s acute digital skills shortage, which is already costing the UK economy £63bn a year.

Mihika said: “I was so excited to be shortlisted, and I can’t believe I’ve won! My brother Arnav was a part of the Tech4Good awards in 2016 and that really inspired me to start thinking more about how technology can help other people. I can’t wait to work with BT to develop the Smart Stick further so that we reach more people who really need it.”

Mihika first began developing her next-generation Smart Stick when she was just six years old after witnessing a blind woman stumble while crossing the road. The aid utilises right and left vibrating alerts, a water sensor, LED lights and a camera with Artificial Intelligence, to recognise and track obstacles that a normal stick cannot. The new Smart Stick helps blind and visually-impaired people walk more safely and with greater independence. Mihika will receive £5,000 of tech equipment of her choice, as well as focused sessions with BT experts, to help develop her project.

Andy Wales, Chief Digital Impact and Sustainability Officer, BT, said: “As technology continues to fundamentally reshape our world it’s important that we celebrate those young people who are actively shaping the future. We’re proud that the Tech4Good awards empower a new generation of inventors with society’s best interests at heart. We’re looking forward to working closely with Mihika to bring her invention to life.”

This year’s finalists for the award are part of a growing trend of school- children actively thinking about using technology to help solve some of society’s biggest challenges. According to new research*, four in ten (37%) children think that the best thing about technology is helping other people and one in three children thinks that technology should improve society.

Robin Christopherson MBE, awards judge and Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet said: “Mihika's ingenious entry combines several smart technologies and has the potential to help considerably improve the lives of many blind and low-vision white cane users. Incorporating a range of sensors, the Smartstick assists the user in several ways; to avoid hazards such as deep puddles, as well as giving important 'haptic' directional feedback via Bluetooth audio - a potential lifesaving feature for those who are deafblind. Add in the customisable 3D-printed cane for smaller children, and this one's a clear winner.”

The Highly Commended Award in the BT Young Pioneer Category went to Josh Lowe and Edublocks, an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop tool which helps young people code with programming language Python 3. The tool has been rolled out across various UK schools in an effort to make coding more accessible than ever before. Along with the other finalists, Joshua will receive tickets to explore Bletchley Park, the once top-secret home of World War 2 codebreakers.

For further information on the award winners, please visit: https://www.tech4goodawards.com/about/

Notes to editors

The Young Pioneer Award is part of the Tech4Good Awards, run by disability charity Ability Net, celebrates companies, charities and individuals that use the empowering influence of digital technology – whether it’s at home, at work, in education – to benefit the community.

*The research for BT was carried out online by Opinion Matters 21/03/19 to 26/03/19 amongst a panel resulting in 1000 parents and 1000 children aged 9-18 years old responding. All research conducted adheres to the MRS Codes of Conduct (2010) in the UK and ICC/ESOMAR World Research Guidelines. Opinion Matters is registered with the Information Commissioner's Office and is fully compliant with the Data Protection Act (1998).

About BT

BT’s purpose is to use the power of communications to make a better world. It is one of the world’s leading providers of communications services and solutions, serving customers in 180 countries. Its principal activities include the provision of networked IT services globally; local, national and international telecommunications services to its customers for use at home, at work and on the move; broadband, TV and internet products and services; and converged fixed-mobile products and services. BT consists of four customer-facing units: Consumer, Enterprise, Global and Openreach.

For the year ended 31 March 2019, BT Group’s reported revenue was £23,428m with reported profit before taxation of £2,666m.

British Telecommunications plc (BT) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group plc and encompasses virtually all businesses and assets of the BT Group. BT Group plc is listed on stock exchanges in London and New York.