Tech for good heroes celebrated at Impact awards

The ways in which technology is contributing innovative solutions to social challenges were showcased at the Digital Agenda Impact Awards yesterday.

In a ceremony that took place at the Barbican Centre, winners were recognised in 12 different categories. The Digital Agenda website reports on the positive differences that technology makes to people’s lives. The event was sponsored by social tech funder Nominet Trust.

Digital Agenda editor Julian Blake explained the reason for the awards: “There’s actually a tense relationship between the public and technology, with understandable fears about its effect on fundamentals like privacy, work and even happiness. 

"But digital offers solutions to answer some of the big challenges we face. Digital has the potential to deliver positive change fast, and at scale.”

The awards served to illustrate that technology is improving almost every facet of modern life. Health, climate, community and food were just some of the areas that the winners worked in.

Amongst the ingenious ideas was Pavegen which makes smart flooring that converts the kinetic energy of people walking on it into electricity. The flooring has flywheels beneath that spin with the pressure of footsteps.

There was also Foodcloud, which links businesses with surplus food to charities to ensure no food goes to waste. Tesco and Waitrose have already signed up and when asked who else she wanted to be involved, founder Iseult Ward said very simply: “The rest of them.”

The capacity for tech to radically improve lives was most movingly demonstrated with a short clip from the BBC’s Big Life Fix programme, featuring Emma Lawton.

Lawton was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was 29 years old. She is a graphic designer, so sketching was a big part of her life. The tremors she suffered as a result of the disease meant she could no longer continue to sketch.

She was introduced to Haiyan Zhang, an innovation director at Microsoft, who came up with a watch-like device that vibrates to counteract the tremors. The result was that Lawton regained her ability to sketch. The two appeared on stage to discuss the experience before an audience still dabbing tears away from the corners of their eyes.

A three-hour ceremony was also energised by provocative and infectiously enthusiastic Eden Project founder Tim Smit, who railed against the negative stories that perpetuate in the media. "Let me tell you just how amazing it is to be alive," he said. "There have been more scientific inventions in the last 17 years than the whole history of humankind before that.

"More is being invented now than at any time, including the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment... we might well be living at an extraordinary moment that people will be writing about 150 years from now."

A full list of the award winners can be found here.