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Samsung’s refined ‘Solve For Tomorrow’ banks on teen energy for innovative ideas

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An automated cleaning robot that carefully patrols our beautiful beaches, picking up litter such as plastic bottles that people often carelessly leave behind. A neckband-shaped cooling device for humans to wear when combating extreme heat conditions in certain jobs. A conversational artificial intelligence tool that uses natural language processing to help more women reduce the present gender bias in STEM research, something the UNESCO Science Report of 2021 also pointed out. These aren’t random ideas, but winners at tech giant Samsung’s Solve For Tomorrow initiative last year, a program they hope will help build solutions to tackle real-world problems.

The Sweep robot and (right) STEM educational tool that’s built with conversational AI are ideas emerging from Samsung’s initiative last year. (Official images.)
The Sweep robot and (right) STEM educational tool that’s built with conversational AI are ideas emerging from Samsung’s initiative last year. (Official images.)

Samsung confirms to HT that the third edition of ‘Solve for Tomorrow for India’, applications for which can be sent in till the end of May, widens the scope with attempts to get an even younger demographic of technology enthusiasts into the fold. Hence, the new ’School Track’, which will join the ‘Youth Track’. Focus areas are community innovation and environment as well as sustainability and teams of students as young as 14 years in age, are eligible. Till last year, the minimum age was 16 years.

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“We strive to inspire and shape the future through innovative ideas and transformative technologies. Our mission revolves around fostering the next generation of innovators and catalysts for social change,” says JB Park, President & CEO, Samsung Southwest Asia. In the 2023 edition, 6,500 teams from across 500 Indian towns participated, which saw the final 30 selected teams proceed to the bootcamp at IIT Delhi followed by a pitch to the jury.

Samsung’s focus on the initiative in India indicates a broader momentum towards what is largely classified as corporate social responsibility, or CSR. Apple, for instance, also has programs for community skill development and environment sustainability, Xiaomi has focused on digital leaning and skill development while Asus actively donates computing devices to educational institutions alongside philanthropy programs.

The innovative ideas that won, and what’s next

For the winners from October last year, they now have to carefully navigate the path often untrodden, including refining the idea towards a final product, funding and manufacturing. Aditi Tapariya, Harshil Mistry, and Vaibhav Gupta of Team NIT Surat, who designed the Sweep robot to keep beaches clean from non-biodegradable waste, tell HT that the access to tech leaders from academia such as IIT Delhi and tech companies such as Samsung, are rare. “They helped us visualize our innovation’s design and incorporate it with the latest technology. They also taught us the fundamentals of design thinking and how to innovate for a purpose,” says the team.

Sweep robot has sensors that can detect waste, identify what type of waste it is when it’s being picked up, and that helps with segregation as it deposits the collection at its rightful place. It has a waste scoop mechanism at the front, which is extendable and multidirectional. The collection is then temporarily stored in an on-board bin. This is nothing like vacuum robots for homes which rely on a suction mechanism, instead the Sweep needs precise handling of physical items.

The scope of exciting innovation leads us to a question – do Samsung or Foundation of Innovation & Technology Transfer (FITT) – IIT Delhi own any participant’s ideas? Samsung confirms that will not be the case. “The participant will be the sole owner of the concept and the intellectual property. The role of Samsung and FITT will be to assist only in developing it,” they say.

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Yash Yadav’s solo endeavour with Team STEMLY takes artificial intelligence, which is quite prominently being used to develop a multitude of tools, as the foundation for a platform that hopes to bring STEM or science, technology, engineering, and math education across genders. It’ll focus on education about recent developments, as well as mentorship opportunities.

For Mukkabir Rahman, Ankush Yadav, and Varsha K J of Team Think at last year’s Solve for Tomorrow, the idea was to make life a little more comfortable for the many that work under the scorching sun, every day. Think of farmers, labourers, gig economy workers or even anyone at a construction site, just some examples. The Kavach device they envision is a wearable, to provide some active cooling relief from the heat.

It will be crucial to take these ideas forward, moulding them into final products that are sold for commercial and home use. For Yadav, the plan is clear, to launch a start-up for STEMLY, which he says is finding positive response from other students who have used the app. “We have received interest from a few companies in the United States, and we hope to impress them. We have multiple other ideas we wish to work on, and for this, we have now hired experts and product managers to enhance our product experience for its users,” says Ankush Yadav of Team Think, illustrating plans for the Kavach wearable.

All of these ideas are yet to translate into final products, and are yet to go on sale for commercial or personal use.

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What it means for 2024 and beyond

There is a certain momentum to the Solve for Tomorrow program, now in place in 63 countries after its first edition in the US in 2010, which Samsung wants to build with in India. Samsung shares some numbers – last year’s edition saw more than 483,000 hours of theoretical knowledge classes just at the Samsung Innovation Campus and more than 150 hours of guidance from mentors to help participants.

“This collaboration underscores the commitment to fostering innovation and empowering young minds to drive positive change in the society,” says Prof. Rangan Banerjee, Director, IIT Delhi, in a statement shared with HT.

Broadening age and scope of the program has necessitated another change in the structure for this year’s competition, which now includes seed grants from school track winners, grant for incubation at IIT Delhi for the Youth track winners as well as mentoring from domain experts including individuals from within Samsung, IIT, and MeitY, alongside support from the UN. Also, this year, the United Nation officially comes on board alongside the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

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