Home Automation Challenge 2019: Engineering ‘Prodigies’ scoop top prize

A team of apprentices from the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre has won this year’s Home Automation Challenge with their automated watering device, an innovation that’s set to make the lives of plant lovers easier.

Maddy White reported from the event, and revealed just how attractive UK manufacturing is becoming for the younger generation. 

Some of Britain’s best young engineering talent competed at the Home Automation Challenge 2019.
Some of Britain’s best young engineering talent competed at the Home Automation Challenge 2019.

Now in its fifth year, the Home Automation Challenge (HAC) provides an opportunity for talented engineering apprentices to compete in an innovative design and manufacturing challenge to automate an everyday home or garden device.

Beyond the production of their designs, teams are also required to submit a report including design specifications, manufacturing instructions, and a detailed business case for the mass production and sale of their product.

Organised by the Young Members Committee of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), the challenge is open to teams of apprentices from companies, colleges and training providers of engineering and manufacturing technologies.

HAC is sponsored by The Manufacturer, and judged at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry.

This year’s event kicked off with a speech from Lord Mayor of Coventry, Linda Bigham, who said she was “astounded” by how the teams were thinking not just about helping young people, but the elderly and disabled with their technology-driven projects.

“This competition is really close to my heart,” Ted Wiggans, fellow at IMechE and COO at Xaar, an industrial inkjet technology developer, told The Manufacturer. “The country has been through a period where we forgot about manufacturing. But it’s such a crucial sector to the UK in terms of exports and employment.”

“The future of the industrial sector is young people. We’ve started to change the perception of manufacturing to show that it does offer vibrant career paths. It’s refreshing to see so many young people here at the challenge today, particularly women,” he added.

Prodigies trickle down

Team Prodigies were crowned champions at this year’s Home Automation Challenge.
Team Prodigies were crowned champions at this year’s Home Automation Challenge.

Four teams took part in the challenge this year, all with different takes on the brief. The prototypes were examined by a select group of judges at the MTC, with ‘Team Prodigies’ crowned champions with its innovative automatic irrigation system.

“It uses sensors to monitor soil moisture and then plants are automatically watered when they need to be,” MTC apprentice and project leader, Paige Beard told me.

“We decided on this project because our grandparents suffer from arthritis in their hands, so for something like hanging baskets, it could really help them.”

As part of its research, the team found that people prefer not to leave taps on to water plants. With this in mind, the team developed a solar-powered system that collects and recycles rainwater to water plants.

As winners, Team Prodigies will exhibit its winning prototype in ‘Innovation Alley’ at Smart Factory Expo – Europe’s largest digital manufacturing show, (13-14 November, Exhibition Centre Liverpool). They can also attend The Manufacturer’s MX Awards 2019 awards ceremony and gala dinner, also held in Liverpool on 14 November.

2019 teams and their prototypes:

Team: Project: Representing: 
Gutted Automated gutter cleaner PA Consulting
Leonardo Edinburgh Automated pizza cutter Leonardo
Praemium ACTIV-EAT – automated sweet dispenser Leonardo
Innovate Face recognition cupboard lock Leonardo
AMTC Prodigies Automated irrigation system MTC
AMTC C.O.R.K. Linear accessibility shelf for wheelchair users MTC
AMTC Wake-up call Automated home alarm clock MTC

Overall Winner: AMTC Team Prodigies for its Automated Irrigation System

Highly Commended Award: Team Praemium for its Activ-Eat

Peer Review Award: AMTC Team Prodigies for its Automated Irrigation System

ACTIV-EAT rewards

Team Prodigies explain its working and concept to Lord Mayor of Coventry, Linda Bigham.
Team Prodigies explain its working and concept to Lord Mayor of Coventry, Linda Bigham.

Another highly commended project came from the five-strong ‘Team Praemium’, with the group’s ACTIV-EAT project giving small rewards when activities are completed.

“If a child walks a certain distance then they can automatically access a sweet or a toy,” said Leonardo apprentice, Matthew Haden. “Their steps can be recorded through a smartphone app and this is sent to the dispenser, then you just press a button on the device and the reward is released.”

The app uses GPS and Bluetooth to collect and send the information to the dispenser. The team say it would scale up the technology and concept to include other tasks, such as completing homework or chores.

Facial recognition & smart shelves

Throughout the day the groups peer-reviewed each other’s projects, with the other teams also hailing Team Prodigies’ device as the best overall project.

One of the other projects came from ‘Team Innovate’, who designed and made a facial recognition cupboard lock to keep things safely and securely stored.

A member of the team demonstrated the product by taking a photo of their face on a smartphone and sending it to a computer – the device unlocked when their face was recognised by the system.

“It could be used for a medicine cabinet, so children couldn’t get into it,” one of the Leonardo apprentices said. On working together and adapting to change, they said: “We started off as a team of six and now we are a team of four. It has been difficult working together, but we have learned a lot from it.”

The remaining project from a group of MTC apprentices was an automated shelving unit.

“We’ve made a smart shelf,” MTC apprentice and ‘Team C.O.R.K.’ leader Lisa-Marie McRedmond said. “It automatically moves up and down and is designed for disabled and shorter people, and to keep things out of reach for children.”

Why choose an apprenticeship?

“The future of the industrial sector is young people,” said Ted Wiggans a fellow at IMechE.
“The future of the industrial sector is young people,” said Ted Wiggans a fellow at IMechE.

While the judges deliberated over the apprentices’ devices and presentations, the four teams explained their projects to children from local schools, trying to inspire the next generation of engineers.

The apprentices told them why they chose an apprenticeship route and what careers engineering offers.

Leonardo apprentice Matthew Haden said: “It is so interesting to be an apprentice, if you like making things then there are so many paths to take, from robotics to cars.”

“I always thought about engineering but didn’t think I could actually do it,” apprentice Lisa-Marie McRedmond said. “I love it because there are so many options, and it’s for everyone – if you like maths, or if you don’t like it so much.”

Home Automation Challenge 2020 – show us what you’ve got!

Teams of apprentices from businesses across the country, colleges and training providers of engineering and manufacturing technologies are invited to participate in next year’s Home Automation Challenge!

Click here for more information