Coolest Projects Awards: Young coders show tourists the way and come to the aid of journalists

Some 500 projects will go on display in the RDS on June 13th

Ever scratched your head trying to figure out what bus or train to catch when visiting an unfamiliar city? A young Irish coder can help. Another young Irish coder is building an app for journalists to get videos of interviewees when they can't meet face to face. And another is rigging a traditional doll's house for 21st-century tech.

These are just a few more than 500 projects that will be on display this Saturday in Dublin for the 2015 Coolest Projects Awards, which will feature the work of coders aged between seven and 17.

The event encourages participants in free CoderDojo computing clubs to come up with ideas and apply their skills to solve problems or simply create something fun.

“We set Coolest Projects up in 2012, and we had 19 people presenting projects at that first event,” says co-founder Noel King. “This year we had to move to the RDS in Dublin because the numbers have become so big, and we have projects coming in from all over Ireland and from Europe, too.”

King, who is vice-president for engineering at Irish software company VSWare and who mentors at CoderDojo in Dublin City University, has been "humbled" by the creativity and ability of the young coders who entered this year's event.

One is 14-year-old Stephen Cushen, who developed a Twitter-based platform for transport services after his family went on holiday abroad and had to ask the hotel staff for information any time they wanted to catch a train.

Cushen came up with a technology-based approach that assigns specific codes to individual hotels. If you tweet that code along with a hashtag, the relevant information gets sourced and tweeted back to you in your chosen language.

Aside from making travel easier for tourists and businesspeople, hotels that subscribe would benefit too, he notes. “Hotels can display a banner and it would cut down on queues of people asking about the bus or train,” he says.

Meanwhile Niamh Scanlon (12) is set to make life easier for journalists who want to make videos of interviewees, but who can’t meet them face to face. Her app allows the journalist to set questions, then the interviewee videos answers through the app, which stitches it all together.

“Other people could use it too – maybe families who want to record videos of relatives who live in different places, or a company that wants to get information from a customer about a product that has broken down,” she says.

For nine-year-old Ciara Whelan, it's all about making her doll's house interactive with an Intel Galileo board. "I put wires in place and connected it to the board, which I can programme to make everything do something," she says. "So that might be to make sounds and turn lights on and off, or make blinds and doors open and shut."

As well as checking out hundreds of projects, visitors on Saturday will be able to attend talks, take part in “hacks” and learn about drones, Minecraft and smart watches, according to King.

And he hopes that through taking part in Coolest Projects, a new generation will develop and sharpen their abilities. “Young people often see creative solutions and we want to hone their problem-solving and communication skills in an environment where they are creating and having fun,” he says.

  • The 2015 Coolest Projects Awards take place at the RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, this Saturday, June 13th. Admission is free but tickets must be booked.
Claire O'Connell

Claire O'Connell

Claire O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times who writes about health, science and innovation