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Google Impact Challenge 2014: Smartglasses for the blind among big money winners

Kew Gardens, Google Impact Challenge 2014

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Centrepoint among the winners as Google hands out £3.2m to help UK charities

Google today announced the winners of its 2014 Impact Challenge with projects from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Centrepoint, WeFarm and the RNIB each awarded £500,000. A panel of judges including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and entrepreneur Peter Jones heard from the ten finalists who all pitched ideas that aimsed to use technology to change the world.

Sir Richard Branson announced the winners via video link from his private island in the Caribbean saying that all the finalists had shown how technology could really benefit non-profit organisations. As well as the four £500,000 winners the remaining six shortlisted charities each received £200,000 from Google to help with their projects. All finalists will also get mentoring and guidance from Google and innovation charity Nesta.

There was a heavy focus on mobile phones and apps with three of the winning projects using such technology. The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew project (pictured) uses smartphones and high-tech wristbands to detect noises made by mosquitos. Kew says that by listening to mosquitos they could track hot-spots and prevent people in the developing world from contracting malaria.

WeFarm’s project aims to give remote farmers access to information through smartphones and text messages while Centrepoint plans to use analytics and mobile technology to identify the true scale of youth homelessness in the UK and help end it.

The RNIB, which won the public vote, is developing technology to use smartglasses to help blind people see again. The charity said that 90 per cent of blind people still retained some form of vision and that by using smartglasses and other technology this could be used to help them see.

Google’s Stephen Rosenthal said the Impact Challenge wasn’t about corporate social responsibility or pleasing shareholders, but rather about supporting charities with inspiring ideas. The company awarded £3.2 million to UK charities as part of the 2014 Impact Challenge. Google has been heavily criticised for paying too little tax in the UK with its UK operation making $5.6bn in revenue last year. Google’s UK operation paid £20.4m of corporation tax on its profits in 2013 according to Companies House.

The announcement of the four winners marks the end of a process that started in May when Google opened the applications process. The Impact Challenge, which launched in the UK in 2013, has since launched other editions in Brazil, India and San Francisco with an Australian version also recently announced.

The last time the Impact Challenge came to the UK winning projects included a low-cost solar lamp for people in developing the countries who live without power and an internet connected camera trap to catch and track poachers in Africa.

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