CHICAGO — The inaugural Grainger Computing Innovation Prize culminated in a grand finale event, with the grand prize awarded to Team GiGi (Green lightnInG coIn) for its design of an energy-efficient and sustainable digital currency.

Illinois Tech student teams pitched their prototypes to a panel of esteemed judges, the Illinois Tech community, and invited guests as part of the finals of the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize, which calls on Illinois Tech students to discover creative technology solutions to some of the most pressing global challenges facing the world today: health disparities, climate change, and the need for sustainable smart infrastructure.

Digital currency is one of the most disrupting technologies of the current era, yet these decentralized currencies are orders of magnitude slower and less energy efficient than existing centralized payment processing approaches, such as credit cards. 

“Digital currencies, like BitCoin, are here to stay, but they currently have a disproportionate carbon footprint and slow transaction speeds,” said Gabriel Bryk, winning team leader for the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize and a third-year student majoring in computer science at Illinois Tech. “Our new digital currency, GiGi, increases transaction throughput through larger blocks with smaller block times and achieves energy efficiency on par with centralized solutions using an improved proof-of-space algorithm leveraging XSearch to secure the digital currency.” 

“All of the projects that we saw in the finals of the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize were outstanding and demonstrate the innovative thinking and talent among the Illinois Tech students,” said Brian Walker, Illinois Tech trustee and vice president and chief product officer at Grainger. “What really stood out to us about GiGi, in addition to its energy efficiency and speed, was its accessibility — moving from a GPU to hard drives opens up digital currency for a much wider market.” 

The panel of judges also included Jonny LeRoy, member of the Illinois Tech College of Computing Board of Advisors and vice president and chief technology officer at Grainger; Trenton Dunn, program manager at ThinkChicago; and  Illinois Tech trustees Amanda Lannert — CEO of Jellyvision, and Karen Klein — chair of the Chicago-Kent board of advisors and chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Relativity. Institute of Design Associate Professor Anijo Mathew, whose research evaluates new models of innovation enabled by technology and media convergence through the lenses of design fiction, design-led innovation, and entrepreneurship, and Calvin Nobles, chair of Department of Information Technology and Management in the College of Computing, lent their considerable expertise to evaluating this year’s Grainger Computing Innovation Prize projects.

The finalists in the inaugural competition introduced projects ranging from smart devices to help make recycling easier and more accurate and a smart waste compressor that aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in developing countries to technology addressing mental health access disparities for sexual violence survivors and modularized workplace safety implementation. 

“At Illinois Tech, students are called  to be purpose-driven citizens,” said Raj Echambadi, president of Illinois Tech. “Our university was born to liberate the collective power of difference to drive innovation for all. The Grainger Computing Innovation Prize reflects this purpose by encouraging students to bring different ways of thinking to tackling some of the world’s most critical challenges.”

In conjunction with Illinois Tech’s newly established College of Computing, teams were composed of students from across different fields of study and from various backgrounds, with the goal of encouraging diversity of thought, unique solutions, and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

“Computing naturally sits at the heart of solutions to today’s global problems,” said Lance Fortnow, dean of Illinois Tech’s College of Computing. “Placing computing at the center of the solution to these pressing problems represents a core goal of the establishment of the College of Computing here at Illinois Tech — computing and data is infused into the core of our educational approach, across each discipline.”

The Grainger Foundation supports the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize annually, with student teams receiving $15,000, $10,000, and $5,000 prizes for finishing in first, second,  and third place, respectively.

“The Grainger Computing Innovation Prize is a perfect example of what philanthropy does to make a difference at Illinois Tech,” said Ernie Iseminger, vice president of advancement at Illinois Tech. 

“The Grainger Computing Innovation Prize provides an outstanding opportunity for our students to utilize what they’ve learned inside the classroom and to directly apply their skills to the challenges that our society faces today,” said Peter Kilpatrick, Illinois Tech Provost. “The Grainger Foundation, in generously supporting this competition, is empowering Illinois Tech students with authentic experiences to help them forge pathways into meaningful work and lifelong learning.”