Te Awamutu College Year 12 student and recently announced School Dux, Bert Downs, has capped off a successful week by being named a winner in the Skills Bright Sparks Competition.

But it was an app that allows parents and siblings of wayward teens to eject them from the shower and a scanner that helps the visually impaired to 'read' colours that are the two overall award-winning inventions in this year's Skills Bright Sparks competition.

Skills Bright Sparks is New Zealand's longest running national competition for young inventors, open to intermediate and high school-aged students. It receives entries from across a broad spectrum of digital, engineering and creative technologies with projects from apps and gadgets, to experiments and revolutionary machines.

Bert's interactive custom hand controller. Photo / Robyn Taylor
Bert's interactive custom hand controller. Photo / Robyn Taylor

The Waterwise shower app, which enables parents (or grumpy siblings) to cut showers short – as well as provide a clear idea of water usage in households – won Cashmere High School Year 13 student Adam Smith of Christchurch the Skills Bright Sparks Overall Best Male Award.

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Smith says he created his Waterwise shower app after he and his family became frustrated with his sister taking long showers.

"The family gets tired of waiting for her," says Adam. "But the app also provides parents with a tool to control the amount of water used by the shower. So that provides insights on the impact that water and shower usage have on the environment."

Year 8 student Agam Aharon, from Ponsonby Intermediate in Auckland, was named Skills Bright Sparks Overall Best Female Award winner for her Spectro Scanner, a device that can be used to 'read' colours to people who are visually impaired or colour blind.

Aharon says she was inspired by the special needs children her mother works with.

"I thought of a way that I could help these children's lives be a bit easier." The Spectro Scanner can be used to read out the colours of different items, such as items of clothing.

As part of their prize, Aharon and Smith will receive a personalised tour of Skills Bright Sparks' sponsor Rocket Lab's mission control facility – and the opportunity to witness a 'hotfire' test of its Rutherford rocket engines.

The popular People's Choice Award was won by Angelina Yang from Northcross Intermediate in Auckland. The competition's youngest 2019 winner – at just 12 – Angelina designed a Table Tennis Serving Machine from Lego that allows her to practice when no one else is able to train with her.

A Special Award for Health & Wellbeing was also awarded to Will Waters from Ōtumoetai College for his app Lifeboat – designed to help those who suffer from depression or anxiety to build up the courage to ask for help. Waters designed the app because he himself suffers from anxiety and he wanted to do something to address New Zealand's high suicide rate.

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This year, a third of the Skills Bright Sparks finalists were female, which is a great indication says Skills Group CEO Garry Fissenden, that more girls are seeing STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects as no longer solely the domain of the boys.

"We think this is really exciting," says Fissenden. "Of those who then placed in our awards for 2019, just under half were female. That's a real indication that girls are recognising how exciting STEM subjects can be and that there are some great career options there for them."

This year, the judges also noticed that a large number of entries were clearly focused on addressing environmental concerns.

"It was evident that many of our students are focused on solutions to issues that impact our environment. It does suggest that the health of our planet is a major concern for Kiwi youth."

The winners were announced at the Skills Bright Sparks awards ceremony at Datacom in Auckland on Thursday 7 November. Sponsors of the Skills Bright Sparks competition included Rocket Lab, ASB, Datacom, Shift, NZ Print, Microsoft and NZTE.


WINNERS

Overall Best Female – Agam Aharon, Ponsonby Intermediate School (Year 8): Spectro Scanner

Overall Best Male – Adam Smith, Cashmere High School (Year 13): Waterwise App

People's Choice Award – Angelina Yang, Northcross Intermediate (Year 7): Table Tennis serving machine made from Lego

Top Junior Bright Spark – James Avenell, Alexandra Primary School (Year 8): Weed Killing Robot

Top Senior Bright Spark – Bert Downs, Te Awamutu College (Year 12): Extend Virtual Reality


SPECIAL AWARDS

Special Award: Health & Wellbeing – Will Waters, Ōtumoetai College (Year 10) : Lifeboat app for encouraging those with depression or anxiety to seek help.

Special Award: Outstanding Engineering – Angelina Yang, Northcross Intermediate (Year 7): Table Tennis serving machine made from Lego.

Special Award: Robotics – Thomas James, Burnside High School (Year 12): Wheelie Drive v.2.

Special Award: Software – Brian Kitchen, Western Springs College (Year 10): Raspberry Fly, 3D scanner for modelling caves.

Special Award: Originality – Matthew Shepherd, Taradale High School (Year 13): Scratch Pack automated back scratcher to alleviate back pain.

Emerging Potential – Jasmine Jared, Rangitoto College (Year 10): eBackpack.