Two secondary school students have won Amazon’s inaugural Alexa Young Innovator Challenge after designing Alexa Skills that could help support those affected by substance abuse and educate people about plastic pollution in the UK.
The winner of the 15-18 category is Eleora Ajanaku from Cambridge, while Isi Holdom from Peckham won in the 13-14 age group. Their entries were picked by a judging panel including STEM advocate Carol Vorderman, computing prodigy Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, YouTuber and computer science graduate Tobi Brown, and Lauren Kisser, Amazon Technology Director and UK ambassador for Amazon Future Engineer.
How Eleora’s idea could help people with alcohol addition
16-year-old Eleora Ajanaku (pictured above), a student at Parkside Community College in Cambridge, proposed an Alexa Skill called ‘Sober Tracker’ to help over 600,000 people across the UK struggling with alcohol addiction, as well as those dealing with substance abuse.
Eleora, who started coding aged nine, saw the challenge as an opportunity to use Alexa to support an issue close to her heart. Inspired by seeing her maternal grandfather struggle with alcohol addiction.
“The issue of addiction is rarely openly discussed, so I saw the Alexa Young Innovator Challenge as an opportunity to support this community, and help people feel seen while still allowing them to tackle their issues in private,” said Eleora.
“I realised through my research that many people see Alexa as a companion, so I think it is perfectly placed to provide this support, with the skill I've coded intended to provide information and guidance in moments addicts need it the most.”
The story behind “Waste Wizard”
The winner of the 13-14 age group, 13-year-old Isi Holdom (pictured above), created ‘Waste Wizard’, an Alexa Skill to promote a better understanding of recycling. In a survey of 1,000 young people surveyed by YouGov, on behalf of Amazon, 22% of secondary school students think climate change is the most pressing issue that could be helped by Artificial Intelligence (AI). Isi’s solution would see Alexa providing detailed guidance on exactly which plastics can be recycled in different UK regions, and how.
“It is really confusing to know how to recycle different plastics properly,” said Isi, who is studying at City of London School for Girls. “I know some councils provide a lot of information and I just wanted to help people on a bigger scale with understanding how to get it right. Alexa is a really accessible way to do this and I hope one day to see my skill in practice.”
How Amazon’s AI coding challenge works
To enter the Alexa Young Innovator Challenge, students across the UK were invited to follow a free online learning programme with curriculum-linked lesson plans and resources, created by Amazon to support the development of AI learning in UK classrooms and STEM clubs. Computer science and AI-related roles could contribute £71 billion a year to the UK economy to 2030, according to research commissioned by Amazon from Capital Economics, with demand for jobs that require computer science, AI or machine learning skills expected to increase by 40% over the next five years. In order to have enough AI talent in the UK workforce to fill these jobs, students need to experience some form of AI-based learning during secondary school.
“We were blown away by the innovation and imaginative thinking that was evident in many of the entries we received for the Alexa Young Innovator Challenge,” said Lauren Kisser, Technology Director at Amazon and UK Ambassador for Amazon Future Engineer.
“The challenge forms part of our Amazon Future Engineer programme, designed to upskill young people in Artificial Intelligence and computer science, and inspire them to consider a career in STEM. If more young people like Eleora and Isi play an active part imagining ways AI can be used to tackle social issues in their communities, just think of the good that technology could achieve in the future.”
Dr. Anne-Marie Imafidon said: “Supporting women in accessing resources and information to help them consider careers in STEM has always been my number one priority. The tech revolution never stops and we know that AI is going to be a vital part of the future of the industry so it’s great to see the Alexa Young Innovator Challenge identifying some amazing young women who are taking the first steps on this journey to be our future scientists and technologists.”
As winners, Eleora and Isi will each receive £2,500 of tech prizes from Amazon, plus a donation of the same amount to their schools to help support their IT curriculum. 20 runners-up across both age categories will receive a £250 Amazon Gift Card and their respective schools will receive a donation of £500.
Amazon’s commitment to equip the next generation of engineers
Amazon supports the education and skills development of students from all backgrounds through Amazon Future Engineer, a comprehensive childhood-to-career programme. The initiative is designed to inspire, educate and enable children and young adults, particularly those from underserved and underrepresented communities, to realise their potential in computer science through free online coding programmes, teacher training opportunities, and virtual career chats. Since launching in 2019, Amazon Future Engineer has reached over 400,000 students across the UK.
Women are still significantly underrepresented in engineering and technology in higher education. UCAS data on university application and acceptance figures for the 2021 cycle highlighted that women represent just 16% and 18% of accepted applications to computer science and engineering degrees respectively. To help address underrepresentation and accelerate the rate of progress, in 2022 Amazon awarded bursaries worth up to £20,000 each to 31 women students from low-income households studying computer science or related engineering courses at UK universities.
Applications for this year’s Amazon Future Engineer Bursary are open until 4pm BST, Tuesday 2 May.