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28 February 2024

Winners of Prototypes for Humanity 2023 Award’s $100,000 prize announced at COP28

By E247

Prototypes for Humanity 2023, an initiative featuring 100 pioneering inventions aimed at addressing environmental and social challenges, concluded today at COP28 with the announcement of the winners of its $100,000 prize. Inaugurated by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council, in the presence of Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairperson of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) and Member of the Dubai Council, the initiative engaged university talent spanning the fields of natural sciences, humanities and technology in a week-long gathering.

The Prototypes for Humanity Awards 2023 concluded with the recognition of five remarkable projects:
1. Synthetic yeast to enhance sustainable production of food and biofuels
2. Medicine-injection device optimised for emergency disaster scenarios
3. Bioplastics made from invasive weed, supporting local communities
4. Satellite monitoring tool to prevent negligence-caused disasters
5. AI to detect suspicious activity in public procurement processes.

The monetary rewards aim to bolster ongoing research in vital areas and recognise the dedication of students and professors pursuing groundbreaking solutions. The week-long Prototypes for Humanity 2023 programme, held at the heart of Dubai's vibrant innovation ecosystem, attracted global experts specialising in ventures, innovation, research, and investments, all focused on assisting university innovators in advancing their projects toward real-world application. Discussions at the event revolved around student-developed technologies, addressing pressing global issues and industries including energy, construction, healthcare, consumer goods, agriculture, soil, and water.

Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum emphasised the vital role of the 'Prototypes for Humanity' initiative in showcasing the importance of science and knowledge for the benefit of humanity. She noted that hosting this global event in Dubai, alongside COP28, demonstrates a strong commitment and responsibility towards addressing global issues. The initiative, she added, strengthens the notion of collective action against climate change challenges.

Her Highness stated: "Aligned with Dubai's vision, the Prototypes for Humanity community strives to create a brighter future for all of humanity. This year's award recipients, through their scientific ingenuity and creative brilliance, have presented tangible solutions to address and mitigate a wide spectrum of challenges, spanning from humanitarian crises to CO2 emissions. The winning solutions serve as vital reminders of the profound impact young innovators can have in redefining and shaping our world. Their accomplishments remind us that we can deliver our commitment to creating a better planet only if we prioritise education and innovation in our strategies. Dubai is dedicated to supporting these young innovators and will actively invest in the winning projects to address climate change, thereby enhancing a sustainable and hopeful future for everyone.”

‘Prototypes for Humanity’ is held under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who also chaired the 2023 Awards jury, which included key figures in the innovation, ventures and humanitarian-support space: Dr Christine Gulbranson Founder, CEO and Managing Partner of Nova Global Ventures; Kristoffer Gandrup-Marino, UNICEF Chief of Product Innovation; His Excellency Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation; Chris Drake, Founder and CEO of Hodges & Drake. The winning projects were selected from an initial pool of over 2,800 submissions from more than 200 different research fields and 710 universities across the world.

His Excellency Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation, commented: “At Dubai Future Foundation, we look to empower initiatives that embrace Dubai’s vision to create a better future - and are pragmatic about achieving goals. The awardees we met today testify to how Prototypes for Humanity’s community is a force for good, which we look forward to nurturing through the emirate’s infrastructure and supporting mechanisms.”

The 2023 edition consolidates the initiative’s profile as a leading innovation and talent pool on a global scale. Graduates from renowned universities worldwide, such as Yale, Stanford, Oxford, Princeton, Berkeley, MIT, Harvard and Cambridge, contributed a diverse range of projects. There was also a remarkable display of talent from leading regional universities across over 100 countries - from Brazil, India, China and South Africa through to Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. The solutions displayed in Dubai demonstrated the extraordinary potential of academia – and the need for complementing approaches – to solve complex issues.

As the founding partner of the ‘Prototypes for Humanity’ initiative, DIFC remains steadfast in its mission to foster the next generation of entrepreneurs, particularly in sustainable innovation. In support of this goal, DIFC will offer innovation licences to select projects from the initiative, enabling emerging entrepreneurs to set up their ventures within DIFC and facilitating access to an array of resources. These include co-working spaces, mentorship, training programmes, connections to private equity networks, and avenues for project financing and development studios.

Arif Amiri, CEO of DIFC Authority and Chairman of the Art Dubai Group, commented: “The Art Dubai Group’s mission for the past 17 years has been to empower the growth of the creative and innovation ecosystems of Dubai, through the establishment of world-class initiatives that both leverage and support the city’s status as a global future forward multicultural hub. We are delighted that Prototypes for Humanity, one of our programmes, continues to grow so seamlessly aligned to this mission, as we eagerly support the next wave of entrepreneurs in the space of sustainable innovation.”

Tadeu Baldani Caravieri, Director of Prototype for Humanity, commented: “Academia has been a catalyst for progress, possessing the ability to identify, deconstruct, and solve problems in an independent environment, thus playing a vital role in driving change. While global sustainability objectives are shaped by commitments and accords among nations and organizations, like those being deliberated at COP28, the advancement towards these goals relies on the development of new technologies – an area where the Prototypes for Humanity community excels. Today we have helped some of those brilliant ideas from take a further step to making a world a better place.”

Prototype for Humanity 2023 winners

Category: Energy, Efficiency and Waste
Winner: Synthetic Yeasts for Biotechnology, Princeton University

The Synthetic Yeasts for Biotechnology project is centred on creating a synthetic version of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae for superior chemical production. Engineered microorganisms have the potential to revolutionise renewable energy and sustainable manufacturing, producing a new generation of fuels, commodity chemicals, agrochemicals, speciality chemicals, and food products. The integrated SCRaMbLE technique accelerates trait evolution, enabling rapid advancement in desired characteristics. Combined with genetically encoded biosensors, these strains efficiently optimise the production of biofuels and other valuable chemicals.

Category: Data sciences, AI
Winner: Digital Twins 4 Tailings Dams, University of Oxford

Digital Twins 4 Tailings Dams is a satellite-based early warning system to monitor and prevent environmental disasters in mining facilities, specifically the tailings storage facilities (TSFs). The World Bank highlights a need for 3 billion tons of metals for the energy transition, intensifying challenges for the mining sector. Remarkably, over 98% of materials like copper end up as waste, stored in TSFs. With over 30,000 TSFs globally, a quarter are abandoned and unmonitored. By integrating geotechnical engineering, satellite remote sensing, and machine learning, Digital Twins 4 Tailings Dams aspire to establish a Digital Twin system to monitor these critical infrastructures.

Category: Health, Relief and Safety
Winner: The Golden Capsule: Hongik University, South Korea

The Golden Capsule is a non-powered medicine-injection device optimised for emergency rescuers in disaster scenarios. Replacing gravity-driven systems, it employs elastic force and air pressure to consistently administer medicine for over 30 minutes to an hour without relying on electricity or manual effort. Its transparent shell encases a medicine-filled balloon, and the device can be easily adjusted for injection speed, even achieving full-drip rates required in emergencies. It is easily attachable to stretchers and enhances rescuer efficiency, eliminating the need to manually hold intravenous packs.

Category: Nature, Food, and Water Systems
Winner: Hyapak, Egerton University

HyaPak converts water hyacinth into biodegradable plastic alternatives, reducing waste whilst helping eradicate an invasive species. While Nairobi produces 480 tons of daily plastic waste, of which it only recycles 45%, water hyacinth wreaks havoc in over 70 countries, blocking waterways and causing significant economic loss. HyaPak’s innovative solution uses this weed to create products like biodegradable seedling wrappers, which decompose in six months. This approach addresses both environmental challenges simultaneously.

Category: Education, Equality and Communities
Winner: Kapak, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

A software application that combats corruption in Ecuador’s public procurement system using data science. The software application harnesses data science and AI to combat corruption in public procurement. This government-independent system pulls data from official e-procurement websites, producing indicators of corruption risks. Through a public web portal, Kapak flags suspicious procedures evaluates contracting entities and suppliers, and raises awareness about corruption risks. Kapak empowers citizens by enhancing transparency in an area of government historically lacking oversight, aiming to integrate advanced algorithms for improved monitoring.