UAE announces $100,000 award winners for innovative ideas in vital fields at COP28

Prototypes for Humanity 2023 honoured the winning projects from over 2,800 submissions representing 710 universities worldwide across more than 200 research fields

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Published: Sun 3 Dec 2023, 4:59 PM

Last updated: Sun 3 Dec 2023, 5:02 PM

Prototypes for Humanity 2023, an initiative featuring 100 pioneering inventions aimed at addressing environmental and social challenges, concluded on Sunday at COP28 with the announcement of the winners of its $100,000 prize.

Inaugurated by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council, in the presence of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairperson of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) and Member of the Dubai Council, the initiative engaged university talent spanning the fields of natural sciences, humanities and technology in a week-long gathering.

The Prototypes for Humanity Awards 2023 concluded with the recognition of five remarkable projects:

  1. Synthetic yeast to enhance sustainable production of food and biofuels
  2. Medicine-injection device optimised for emergency disaster scenarios
  3. Bioplastics made from invasive weed, supporting local communities
  4. Satellite monitoring tool to prevent negligence-caused disasters
  5. AI to detect suspicious activity in public procurement processes.

The monetary rewards aim to bolster ongoing research in vital areas and recognise the dedication of students and professors pursuing groundbreaking solutions. The week-long Prototypes for Humanity 2023 programme, held at the heart of Dubai's vibrant innovation ecosystem, attracted global experts specialising in ventures, innovation, research, and investments, all focused on assisting university innovators in advancing their projects toward real-world application. Discussions at the event revolved around student-developed technologies, addressing pressing global issues and industries including energy, construction, healthcare, consumer goods, agriculture, soil, and water.

Sheikha Latifa emphasised the vital role of the 'Prototypes for Humanity' initiative in showcasing the importance of science and knowledge for the benefit of humanity. She noted that hosting this global event in Dubai, alongside COP28, demonstrates a strong commitment and responsibility towards addressing global issues. The initiative, she added, strengthens the notion of collective action against climate change challenges.

She stated: "Aligned with Dubai's vision, the Prototypes for Humanity community strives to create a brighter future for all of humanity. This year's award recipients, through their scientific ingenuity and creative brilliance, have presented tangible solutions to address and mitigate a wide spectrum of challenges, spanning from humanitarian crises to CO2 emissions. The winning solutions serve as vital reminders of the profound impact young innovators can have in redefining and shaping our world. Their accomplishments remind us that we can deliver our commitment to creating a better planet only if we prioritise education and innovation in our strategies. Dubai is dedicated to supporting these young innovators and will actively invest in the winning projects to address climate change, thereby enhancing a sustainable and hopeful future for everyone.”

‘Prototypes for Humanity’ is held under the patronage of Sheikha Latifa, who also chaired the 2023 Awards jury, which included key figures in the innovation, ventures and humanitarian-support space: Dr Christine Gulbranson Founder, CEO and Managing Partner of Nova Global Ventures; Kristoffer Gandrup-Marino, UNICEF Chief of Product Innovation; Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation; Chris Drake, Founder and CEO of Hodges & Drake. The winning projects were selected from an initial pool of over 2,800 submissions from more than 200 different research fields and 710 universities across the world.

The 2023 edition consolidates the initiative’s profile as a leading innovation and talent pool on a global scale. Graduates from renowned universities worldwide, such as Yale, Stanford, Oxford, Princeton, Berkeley, MIT, Harvard and Cambridge, contributed a diverse range of projects. There was also a remarkable display of talent from leading regional universities across over 100 countries - from Brazil, India, China and South Africa through to Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. The solutions displayed in Dubai demonstrated the extraordinary potential of academia – and the need for complementing approaches – to solve complex issues.

Prototype for Humanity 2023 winners

Category: Energy, Efficiency and Waste

Winner: Synthetic Yeasts for Biotechnology, Princeton University

The Synthetic Yeasts for Biotechnology project is centred on creating a synthetic version of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae for superior chemical production. Engineered microorganisms have the potential to revolutionise renewable energy and sustainable manufacturing, producing a new generation of fuels, commodity chemicals, agrochemicals, speciality chemicals, and food products. The integrated SCRaMbLE technique accelerates trait evolution, enabling rapid advancement in desired characteristics. Combined with genetically encoded biosensors, these strains efficiently optimise the production of biofuels and other valuable chemicals.

Category: Data sciences, AI

Winner: Digital Twins 4 Tailings Dams, University of Oxford

Digital Twins 4 Tailings Dams is a satellite-based early warning system to monitor and prevent environmental disasters in mining facilities, specifically the tailings storage facilities (TSFs). The World Bank highlights a need for 3 billion tons of metals for the energy transition, intensifying challenges for the mining sector. Remarkably, over 98% of materials like copper end up as waste, stored in TSFs. With over 30,000 TSFs globally, a quarter are abandoned and unmonitored. By integrating geotechnical engineering, satellite remote sensing, and machine learning, Digital Twins 4 Tailings Dams aspire to establish a Digital Twin system to monitor these critical infrastructures.

Category: Health, Relief and Safety

Winner: The Golden Capsule: Hongik University, South Korea

The Golden Capsule is a non-powered medicine-injection device optimised for emergency rescuers in disaster scenarios. Replacing gravity-driven systems, it employs elastic force and air pressure to consistently administer medicine for over 30 minutes to an hour without relying on electricity or manual effort. Its transparent shell encases a medicine-filled balloon, and the device can be easily adjusted for injection speed, even achieving full-drip rates required in emergencies.

It is easily attachable to stretchers and enhances rescuer efficiency, eliminating the need to manually hold intravenous packs.

Category: Nature, Food, and Water Systems

Winner: Hyapak, Egerton University

HyaPak converts water hyacinth into biodegradable plastic alternatives, reducing waste whilst helping eradicate an invasive species. While Nairobi produces 480 tons of daily plastic waste, of which it only recycles 45%, water hyacinth wreaks havoc in over 70 countries, blocking waterways and causing significant economic loss. HyaPak’s innovative solution uses this weed to create products like biodegradable seedling wrappers, which decompose in six months. This approach addresses both environmental challenges simultaneously.

Category: Education, Equality and Communities

Winner: Kapak, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

A software application that combats corruption in Ecuador’s public procurement system using data science. The software application harnesses data science and AI to combat corruption in public procurement. This government-independent system pulls data from official e-procurement websites, producing indicators of corruption risks. Through a public web portal, Kapak flags suspicious procedures evaluates contracting entities and suppliers, and raises awareness about corruption risks. Kapak empowers citizens by enhancing transparency in an area of government historically lacking oversight, aiming to integrate advanced algorithms for improved monitoring.

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