Why we need more 'imagineers'

Steve Tasker | 29 Jun 2015 | Comments

STEM awards selfie with Rachel Riley
STEM award presented by Channel 4’s Countdown presenter, Rachel Riley. (L-R: Steve Tasker, STEM award winner Abbie Romano, Rachel Riley, Mark Goudie)

Last week I attended the Telegraph STEM Awards, a competition of ideas and ingenuity for undergraduate students studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

The awards were meant to inspire young people to pursue STEM careers, but really they inspired me and reminded me how important it is to use your imagination when approaching engineering problems.

Atkins supported the students in the Design in the Built Environment awards category, and set them the challenge of finding ways to use robotics to take people out of dangerous construction sites. Safety is hugely important to me and to Atkins, so when we read through all of the students’ ideas we were blown away by the incredibly high levels of enterprise and imagination they showed.

One student came up with the idea of using robots that mimic the way spiders climb walls to paint buildings; another student proposed using reverse assembly lines to manufacture buildings in the same way that we manufacture cars.

One young man came up with the idea of a super 3D printer that could print a skyscraper at the push of a button. While this may seem farfetched to someone who’s been in the engineering industry for decades, I read this article in Discover recently about a 3D printing robot building a bridge in Amsterdam and thought ‘hey, it could happen!’.

Our category winner Abbie Romano’s idea was to use drone technology to control diggers on construction sites and GPS to monitor workers and alert them when they’re entering hazardous areas. What most impressed me about her proposal, aside from her obvious passion for it, was that it was something I could easily imagine happening. The technology is there, we just hadn’t thought of using it in that way before. I think it was Abbie’s ability to use her imagination to find a solution to a problem using common tools and technology that led to her winning the overall Telegraph STEM Award.

Alcoa (the Aluminum Company of America) came up with the term ‘imagineering’ in the 1940s to describe an approach that combines imagination and engineering. The STEM Awards showed me that this concept is still valid today, and if anything, we need more ‘imagineers’ in the future to drive our industry forward.