Teenagers go the extra mile

29th June 2007 at 01:00
WHEN BT, the telecommunications giant, tendered for the Government's controversial contract to tax motorists for every mile they drive on British roads, it drew on the expertise of a high-powered group of design consultants.

The consultants, aged 14 to 16, were pupils at Stoke high school and St Joseph's College, both in Ipswich, Suffolk.

BT is one of several corporations seeking the views of children in developing new products, recognising that they can brainstorm without the constraints of time, money and preconceptions.

Its young Ipswich consultants also came up with the Trolley Dolly, a supermarket trolley with a built-in computer that enables a shopper to find items in the aisles, swipe the bar codes on the trolley and pay without having to queue at a till.

But it is their Driving Force innovation that shows the most immediate commercial promise. It would link vehicles to a wireless computer network, allowing motorists to find routes, hopefully avoid traffic jams, and download films and computer games for passengers in the back. Critically, it would allow BT, if it wins a Department for Transport tender in a fortnight, to trace the movement of vehicles on Britain's roads, so they can be charged for each mile they drive.

Neil Mellor, BT's business development director for intelligent transport, said the Ipswich pupils had discussed the environmental impact of road transport, the need to better manage the roads network and their experiences of boring car trips.

In intensive sessions with BT technicians, they had come up with their proposal for a national wireless communications network linked to consoles on vehicle dashboards.

Motorists already pay pound;8 a day to drive into central London, with congestion charge cameras reading licence plates. But the next step - to roll the scheme out nationwide, charging per mile - requires sophisticated communications technology that relies on satellites and wireless networks, not just cameras.

Jonathan Miller, an assistant headteacher at Stoke high, said pupils from the two schools came up with the idea of putting wifi transmitters in Catseyes on roads.

"I was gobsmacked at the input the students had," he said. "Their ideas weren't constrained by their previous knowledge or experience."

"You had students who at the start wouldn't say boo to a goose, but by the end they were standing up in front of an audience of 60, including experts from BT."

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