'A win for disabled people to feel heard': Ilford student wins £10k prize in technology competition

Ramneek Kaur Ahluwalia from team MyVision

Ramneek won £10,000 - Credit: Matt Alexander/PA Wire/PA Images

An Ilford student has won £10,000 in a competition for her groundbreaking design to help people with visual impairments.

Ramneek Kaur Ahluwalia came top at Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow competition with her device MyVision, which brings together AI, GPRS and LiDAR to create a new innovative walking cane.

It helps with various tasks such as obstacle detection and navigation support, while allowing owners to hide their need for mobility support if they wish.

“This academic year has been very challenging, and Samsung has given me this opportunity that has been my outlet, my positive space,” said Ramneek, who has a severe visual impairment.

She continued: “And I’m just hoping this isn’t just a win for me. It’s a win for the community. It’s a win for disabled people to feel heard.”

Developed in partnership with Digital Catapult, the competition’s entrants take part in a programme of workshops from March to June and are matched with a mentor to prepare to pitch their idea to a judging panel.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 WEDNESDAY JUNE 29 EDITORIAL USE ONLY Ramneek Kaur Ahluwalia from team MyVision is

Ramneek Kaur Ahluwalia from team MyVision - Credit: Matt Alexander/PA Wire/PA Images

Ramneek was up against 450 entrants to win the cash prize.

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Her mentor, Antoni Pakowski, design strategist at Samsung Design Europe, said:  “Her passion for the project and helping the visually impaired community is an inspiration and I look forward to seeing what she will achieve over the next six months.”

As she designed the winning device, Ramneek will continue to develop MyVision with the Solve for Tomorrow team over the next six months.

With the device, Ramneek said she hopes to eliminate the stereotypes that come with the white cane.

“MyVision will be a part of you to the point where it's the companion. You're going to shape it so you can put your identity towards it. The color, the size, the design, that's all you because you're going to have to carry it,” said the 20-year-old.

Ramneek’s passion for technology blossomed out of her childhood love for design and drawing, and it was in Year 8 that she participated in her first design competition, the Great British Make-Off with the London Science Museum.

“Because I won my category, I spent the day with a startup company," she said. "I remember being in such awe of not only the design process but also the chief executive, who was a woman."

She continued: “I was so inspired that she had such a good team around her that was so diverse. I thought, ‘this is what I want to be doing,’ I want to have such an amazing team around me.

"From then on, I picked up engineering.”

After going through several challenges throughout her education, the university student said it means the world to her to advocate for the disabled community.

She has previously spoken to MPs, volunteered at the Thomas Pocklington Trust, and is a consultant for Stemettes Youth Brand Accessibility.

Ilford student Ramneek Kaur Ahluwalia won Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow 2022 competition, London

Ramneek Kaur Ahluwalia won Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow 2022 competition, London - Credit: Matt Alexander/PA Wire

“I know what’s happened to me has happened, but I can’t let that happen again for the next disabled person.

"The amount of advocacy you have to do just to try and get the bare minimum of support is a lot.

"It is an enormous amount of grit, will, perseverance, all that stuff coming together to get just as fair opportunities as your peers."

Ramneek told this paper she has high hopes for more accessibility in large tech companies.

“I think accessibility is becoming less of an afterthought and more of ‘okay, we’ve started this business or product, the first thing we have to provide is accessibility'.

"Those who are sighted or don’t have a disability probably use accessibility more because it makes life easier. That’s the whole point,” said Ramneek.

The 20-year-old said she was speechless after hearing she had won first place in the competition.

"It felt so surreal. I had completely lost my words that day, which is why I’m happy I wrote a speech,” said Ramneek.

Coming off her win, Ramneek’s biggest hope is that disabled individuals are seen as people.

“I think my dream would be just to have the point where we don't need to use the term ‘disabled'."

The Solve for Tomorrow competition is in its second year in the UK and asks young people between 16 and 25 years old to submit their ideas on key themes including sustainability, social isolation, education and diversity, and equity and inclusion. 

Sophie Edgerley Harris, head of corporate social responsibility at Samsung Electronics UK, said: “Solve for Tomorrow was created to encourage and excite the youth of today by helping develop and nurture their ideas using the latest tech to tackle the most pressing societal issues."