A £50,000 cash prize has been awarded to a team of Bristol-based tech experts who have devised an app that aims to revolutionise the school run as part of the Bristol 2015 Green Capital Digital Challenge.
Walking buses and cycling trains offer a greener and more active way for pupils to get to school safely, by foot or by bike, escorted by adult volunteers. Much like a regular bus or train, there are pick-up times as well as designated stops along the route.
“We were shocked to discover that every school day in the UK, around 40% of primary school children are dropped off by car.”
With the Crocodile app, parents can view the walking bus routes nearest to them, book their child into their preferred route, check progress on the day and confirm that their child has arrived at school safely. The team has developed a short film which explains how it works:
In total, 33 international teams entered the Bristol 2015 Green Capital Digital Challenge, which saw 11 teams compete in a hack weekend to develop software applications and games that tackle environmental challenges. A panel of judges including Ed Parsons of Google and Siobhan Reddy of Media Molecule then shortlisted six teams, each of which received £5,000 to further develop their ideas ahead of the final on 20 April.
Delight and panic!
We caught up with one of the winning team, Sustainability solution expert Kevin Ramm, to ask how they felt when their name was announced as winner: “A mixture of delight, relief and panic,” Kevin tells us.
“Delight that the judges really liked our Crocodile Walking Bus App idea and that winning the competition meant that the idea was going to become reality. Relief that all the hard work was not in vain and that we had made the right choice when we selected this idea from the many others we thought up. Panic that we now had to make it happen. A couple of days after the event the panic is subsiding as we build thoughts on next steps.”
The Crocodile team beat five other finalists to win the Bristol 2015 Green Capital Digital Challenge, part of a year-long festival celebrating innovations in green technology. As Kevin told us when they developed the app in the 48-hour Digital Challenge hackathon: “We were shocked to discover that every school day in the UK, around 40% of primary school children are dropped off by car.
“By catalysing more active travel for children, Crocodile should also bring health and fitness benefits, and increase social interaction between children”
“We also learned that a high proportion of rush-hour traffic in towns and cities is due to school-runs by car. High traffic volumes cause continued poor air quality in UK cities, linked to asthma and other health problems. Walking buses and cycle trains offer a great alternative to commuting to school by car.
The Crocodile app: An app to encourage kids to walk to school
“There is also an expected educational benefit – research has shown that children who walk, scoot or cycle to school arrive more alert and ready to learn.”
Rewards for walking to school
As well as providing an easy tool for parents to engage in more environmentally friendly ways to get their children to school, the app also generates useful analytics for schools and walking bus sponsors.
The Crocodile team hopes this will help schools to understand trends in walking bus activities and encourage them to introduce reward schemes for pupils, classes or year groups that adopt greener travel habits.
Kevin added: “By catalysing more active travel for children, Crocodile should also bring health and fitness benefits, and increase social interaction between children.
What’s next for the Crocodile app?
So what’s the future for Crocodile? “Bright, we hope!” Kevin tells us. “We are receiving amazingly positive feedback on the idea – from schools, parents and potential investors. Getting additional feedback from stakeholders and the user community is crucial, so we plan to work closely with interested schools in the next stage of development, and to then release a working pilot.
The team behind the winning Crocodile app: David Smith,
Carl Sargunar, Kevin Ramm, Jon Waring and Chris Thurling
“We would like to grow the app beyond walking buses to support scooting and cycling to school – but perhaps not space-hoppers! Our vision is that Crocodile will deliver environmental and social benefits to a trusted community of parents and children connected through schools.”
From spare time to full time
Kevin and the rest of the Crocodile team – Chris Thurling, Jon Waring, Carl Sargunar and David Smith – are all passionate about the environment and worked on the app in their spare time, alongside their day jobs.
It is anticipated that the cash prize will free up at least two members of the team to be able to work on the app full time, starting with a pilot phase in the Bristol and Bath area and then extending to as many schools as possible.
“If we can make even a small contribution in reducing the proportion of children travelling to schools in cars then we will be very happy!”
Kevin said: “If we can make even a small contribution in reducing the proportion of children travelling to schools in cars, so that they regularly walk or cycle to school instead, then we will be very happy!
“With more than 1 million UK primary school children regularly commuting by car, a small percentage reduction can make a big difference. While we might target the UK initially, car school runs is an issue in many developed countries, so ultimately we would like to see Crocodile go international.”
So does Kevin think the Bristol 2015 Green Capital Digital Challenge has helped raise awareness of green tech and the issues it can solve? “Absolutely! The variety of ideas catalysed through the competition was fabulous, and really showcased different ways that technology can build awareness – which is important – but also how technology can bring solutions.
“We really enjoyed the sense of positive purpose this competition has given us”
“A common feeling amongst the Crocodile team members is how they really enjoyed the sense of positive purpose this competition has given them – using tech skills for societal benefits. And that purpose and passion is what will energise us to make Crocodile successful. “
A runner-up ‘People’s Choice’ prize of £10,000 was awarded to a team of developers from the Bristol Games Hub who designed Future City Simulator, a game where players are in charge of making decisions about how their city creates and uses resources, such as food.
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The impact of their decision is played out through stories told by characters who are citizens in their city, giving real insight into how the decisions we make as a community can have a big impact on our environment.
“Having the finals coincide with the youth summit was a great idea”
The final was hosted at Colston Hall to coincide with Green Youth Day, another Bristol 2015 event. The young delegates at the summit voted for the team that they wanted to win the Peoples’ Choice Award. Kevin felt this was particularly important: “Having the finals coincide with the youth summit was a great idea – to expose to a young audience the potential of digital technologies to act as a force for good may have been highly inspirational.”
All of the finalists will come together again at Venturefest Bristol & Bath on 9 June, at the Passenger Shed by Bristol Temple Meads, to showcase the prototypes that they have built.
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The Digital Challenge is part of a year-long series of activities and initiatives that make up the International Green Technology Festival. To keep up to date on all the latest news and events, follow #Greentech2015 on Twitter or visit www.bristol2015.co.uk. For more information about the Crocodile app, follow @crocodileapp on Twitter or visit www.crocodile.org.uk.