Teens’ real-time sign language translator wins Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize

The team from St Paul’s School for Girls triumphed over hundreds of applicants from schools across the UK

Winners of the coveted Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize have been announced, with the team from St Paul’s School for Girls taking the crown for 2021.

The self-named team, The Sign Champions, triumphed over hundreds of students from schools across the UK, with their two-way AI-enabled British Sign Language (BSL) translator – named BSL: Educate-2-Translate – landing them the £20,000 prize.

In an event that challenges young innovators to design and develop technological solutions to some of the biggest issues of today, the contest encourages teams of students to create contraptions that deliver social good.

The competition is free for all 11–16-year-olds to enter, with various support and resources provided for teams throughout the year. With a total sum of £40,000 to split between winners and runner-ups, the Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize offers one of the biggest cash rewards to UK schools. The winning teams can use the funds to further develop their ideas, supporting entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) learning within their school or youth group.

From the archive: Finalists for this year’s Longitude Explorer Prize unveiled

The Sign of Champions, a team consisting of Radhika Iyer, Vivien Wu, Megan Gill, and Olympia Andipa, were announced as winners at last week’s (15 July) virtual awards ceremony. Inspired by the experience of their friend who is deaf – as well as the experience of the 11m UK citizens who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and the nation’s 151,000 BSL speakers – the team designed, developed and coded BSL: Educate-2-Translate to interpret BSL and convert it into spoken English, and likewise translate spoken English into BSL videos. On top of this, the app aims to teach BSL non-speakers via personalised feedback to video footage of the user in practise.

The expert judging panel, which included Lauren Kisser – director of Amazon’s Development Centre in Cambridge (the person who makes sure Amazon’s Alexa understands your questions) – and president of techUK, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, spoke high praise for this year’s winners, calling the translator “a cutting-edge project, with impressive teamwork. The team demonstrated an advanced use of technology and AI, creating a complex prototype that is simple to use.”

“One of the challenges we have faced is the lack of a BSL video database, and creating and implementing that is something we think the prize money could go towards. Ultimately, we would like to see the app come to market” – Radhika Iyer, 2021 winner

The panel also said that BSL: Educate-2-Translate has great investment potential, supported by the team’s impressive business plan.

On their win, team member Olympia Andipa commented: “We’ve been working on the project for such a long time, it’s such a surprise to have won, especially when there were so many other exciting projects. We’re over the moon!”

Fellow Sign of Champions member Radhika Iyer said the team are keen to keep working on the prototype. “One of the challenges we have faced is the lack of a BSL video database,” she explained, “and creating and implementing that is something we think the prize money could go towards. Ultimately, we would like to see the app come to market.”

Three runner-up teams also secured £5,000 for their schools, including: Plasticivore – Insect-Powered Plastic Digester, created by the team from Liverpool Life Sciences UTC; Alderman Peel High School, whose team designed Pura-Sky: Bluetooth Pollution Device; and the Rainforest DRAGEN project from students of Mendip Studio School.

Thousands of votes were also cast for the winners of the People’s Choice Award, for which the public chose Bioclear by Team Elektrica from Wimbledon High School, who also landed a sum of £5,000.

On the competition, Kisser commented: “Every entry in this year’s final has demonstrated serious ingenuity and creativity. It has been really exciting to see finalists commit themselves to the process and develop their ideas into prototypes with support from Amazon mentors.”

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