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Smart Seeds 2018 – How I got to ride in a self driving car, and make friends and stuff

Smart Seeds is a 11 week global innovation program for young talent focused on complex infrastructure challenges. There are five challenges that focus on five key problems in our city, “Christchurch: Your Opportunity”, “Wai Care?”, “An Alternative Route”, “Working Towards Our Future” and “Embracing a New Transport Paradigm”. Each team has to come up with a creative concept and pitch it to industry leaders and key stakeholders.

I joined Smart Seeds because my manager Kate Phillips said that it would allow me to leave my mark on my favourite place in the world to live, Christchurch, so I promptly signed up! Even more promptly I forgot I had signed up until four months later when I received the calendar invite for the kick-off event.

Smart Seeds 2018 team meeting

The first time I met my team I was very stressed. My car had just started playing up, I was moving house, and the parking I had paid for near our meeting place was very close to running out, but I made it. As my team had met twice before I had walked in, they all knew each other’s names and had already started their solution to the problem. It was awkward.

I had joined a team already in full swing. They were discussing turning Christchurch’s red zone into a solar farm; this was their current solution for how to best prepare Christchurch for autonomous vehicles. I remained quiet and when asked my opinion I put forward that there are entire companies dedicated to making solar farms and wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy farm land about 50kms inland?

"A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still."- Benjamin Franklin.

I didn’t want to say I didn’t like the idea they had come up with, so I tried to push us in another direction: suggesting ideas, challenging points made and talking to members individually about their ideas. This finally culminated with one of the planned events in the Smart Seeds program, a pitch to two panels of local industry leaders where we brought forward two ideas to see which one they liked the most.

Something happened that even ing to us as a team and from that point on it wasn’t me and the team… it was very much our team. We left the ideation workshop with some action items, one of which was to find out the actual problem we are trying to solve.

Smart Seeds 2018 team ideas

To find this problem we started a survey for the public of Christchurch to determine what their actual pain points are in regards to commuting in and out of the CBD. We also contacted some people in the industry currently working towards bringing automated vehicles to Christchurch so we could get a better idea of what has already been done and what is currently in the work plan. This led us to a meeting with Ryan Cooney, the recently appointed Operations Manager Future Transport at NZ Transport Agency. In one meeting with Ryan he fundamentally changed our approach to the challenge. The recently created role that he had taken on aligned perfectly with our challenge; he was an invaluable resource.

For four weeks we spun our wheels, until suddenly we needed to pitch again… and we had nothing...

We had narrowed down our problem to become “There is no place for people to get the information on Self Driving car projects in Christchurch” and with this information we decided to make a website. Pitching this got the expected reaction of, and I quote “So you’re making a website”. We came away defeated. Trying to be too realistic is boring.

Smart Seeds 2018 pitch plan

That’s when it happened, in a small room at the pitch workshop, we found our solution: If Christchurch wants self-driving cars what are the stepping stones for achieving this goal? “Infrastructure” and “regulations” are already being worked on, and that requires a lot more sway than our group had. However, there was one major part that nobody was working on – public engagement. We took our previous ideas and spun them into a three stage plan, with timescales based on where the industry is estimated to be.

Once that fell into place it was all around the final pitch. All we had to do was deliver it well on the night. During this process we got to ride in a self-driving car, which is probably the highlight of the whole process for me. We needed to create a video as part of our final presentation so this was a perfect excuse to get a ride in one.

Smart Seeds 2018 presentation

We had our slides ready with our professionally made logo and our sharp looking video, we had our script memorised and our choreography down. We had anticipated questions and who was going to answer them. We got up on stage and nailed it, people were laughing at all the correct bits, everyone got their lines spot on, all the questions answered with a smile.

At the end of the day we did not win, but the ideas we pitched will be turned into actual events, the connections we made will help going forward, and the friends we made along the way will stay.

Smart Seeds 2018 team

My team (left to right): Andrew Springford – EY, April Hickson – Intergen, Sam Smith – Apollo Projects, Scott Davison – Fulton Hogan, Simon Pollock – GHD. Not pictured (as he was on the beach in Australia), Brodie Akacich – Christchurch International Airport

Posted by: April Hickson, Junior Developer | 07 June 2018

Tags: innovation, social responsibility, Smart Seeds

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