Technolab's Willie Wortel Wedstrijd

May 12, 2017 - UL helps judge the semi-finals of the Willie Wortel Wedstrijd, organized by Technolab in Leiden, the Netherlands.

Innovation is at the heart of what we do at UL: sometimes indirectly, by helping companies to focus on creating innovative products while relieving them of the compliance aspects, and sometimes directly, by building a proof of concept, or (co-)authoring a standard. But it’s not just doing: we also aspire to inspire others with the innovation mindset.

Recently, we had the opportunity to participate in the Willie Wortel Wedstrijd (Gyro Gearloose Contest). This is a contest organized in Leiden, The Netherlands by the Technolab, which allows young geniuses from the first two grades in high school (12-14 years) to imagine, evolve and create a creative solution to a self-chosen problem. These problems range from very practical ones, such as getting shampoo in your eyes, to the large problems in the world, such as poaching. We helped to judge in the semi-finals, and would like to share our experiences, as well as some of the solutions presented by the students.

During the semi-finals, students from 26 schools presented their ideas – each school had already had a preliminary round to find the best idea among their students. These groups were split over two evenings. The setup was like a science fair: tables all around a big open space, with one group presenting their idea and prototype at each table. Each group had prepared a short (2 minute) presentation explaining the chosen problem, the solution, and a high-level business plan. The judges went around all tables, listened to their pitch, and asked clarifying questions. Of course, all the participants (and their family) also went around to check out all of the other ideas. 

Of the (in total) 26 ideas, only 10 were allowed to continue, so we had the difficult job to select the most interesting, creative, and/or realistic ideas. Here, we'd like to show some of the most feasible, most inspiring and funniest ideas:

The throwable game controller

Avid gamers will recognize this: you're playing a game, but you're losing again due to some stupid trick that just doesn't want to work. Angrily, you throw the controller to the chair next to you, but you miss, and instead the controller falls on the floor... into dozens of bits. Why not make it throwable instead, made from a soft rubber, so that it even survives the wrath of an angry teenager? Here, we were impressed by the business model, and the technical feasibility.

The blind shoe

In modern life, it's no longer a problem if you're not sure how to get somewhere: you just turn on the GPS on your smart phone. But that doesn't work if you are visually impaired, and unable to see the phone screen. You could use voice control, but sound can be hard to hear in a city environment, and wearing headphones is dangerous -- especially if you need the sound to sense your environment! This group suggests to put a small vibrating motor in shoes, and connecting these up to a controlling device. When you need to turn right, your right shoe buzzes; if you need to turn left, your left shoe buzzes. We really liked the social responsibility aspect in this project -- this group was not looking for a solution to their problem, but to a problem other, less privileged, people might have.

The vacuum trimmer/shaver

When you trim hairs, they end up everywhere. This is not so different from the problems DIYers face when they sand walls or saw wood. For DIYers, the solution has been standard for ages: just make a connector for a vacuum, and make sure the dust ends up in the vacuum instead of in the room. This group proposed to integrate a miniature vacuum in the trimmer, and using that to collect the cut hairs in a bag. Even though we're not sure about the technical implementation, we do believe this is worth some further research!

The rubber ducky hat 

For many children, washing their hair is difficult: especially when parents still need to help them, they easily get soap in their eyes. This group proposed an inverse bathing cap, exposing the hair, but protecting the face.  To appeal to the right audience, the group wants to make it in the form of a rubber ducky. Other shapes/animals would be possible as well.

Overall, we were very impressed by the ideas presented by the students. In addition, the event was well-organised by Technolab. The groups who have continued to the finals will receive support to build or improve their prototype, and a workshop to improve their entrepreneurial skills. They will present their final product during the finals on June 9. To be continued!


These are the personal opinions of UL’s employees and its guests and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinion of UL's clients, suppliers or other relations.