Johannesburg - Twin sisters Matlhogonolo and Masego Mphahlele have made history after their innovative Digital X-Ray Glasses ranked in the top three at an international technological event.
The siblings were the first South Africans to make it to the top three at the Red Bull Basement Global Final which was held last weekend in Istanbul, Turkey.
The 22-year-old sisters from Hammanskraal returned to South Africa with their unprecedented accolade this week and told the Saturday Star that they are thrilled to have made their nation proud.
“To be the first South African team to get into the top three at the Global Final means a lot not only to us but to all young girls who want to get into science and technology.
“It is testament that it is possible to do so.”
Their Digital X-Ray Glasses, which were created to help with the backlog in the South African health-care system, impressed the judges at the Global Final as they are capable of assisting in taking an X-ray scan of a human and from there they are able to make a prototype.
The twins finished in third place to the winners from Arizona State University, students Brinlee Kidd and Sylvia Lopez for their ingenious idea for an automated study tool.
Second place at the Global Final went to IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems students for their reusable packaging solution for online retail orders.
While the Mphahleles did not walk away with the top honours at the Global Final, the sisters believe that it was more than just a worthwhile experience.
“Turkey was a great experience for us, it was our first time leaving the country and it couldn't have happened for a better occasion,” they explained.
“We were able to engage and exchange ideas with different individuals from different countries as well as gain more exposure for our innovation, which led to us getting offers from people to assist us with it.”
The Red Bull Basement is a global initiative which seeks to discover new innovations by university students and showcase them to a global audience. The aim of the competition is to inspire innovative technology ideas that can drive positive change in their local communities.
The Mphahleles beat 125 other participants in the local phase of the competition in order to make it to the final and have a chance to receive a custom package of resources to realise their unique invention.
The sisters were just 19 years old when they came up with their Digital X-Ray Glasses in 2019 after one of their football teammates was injured during a match and they spent hours waiting for an X-ray at the local hospital.
This prompted them to find a quicker solution and so their Digital X-Ray Glasses were created.
“Just think, after a tough tackle in a rugby match, the medic could take a digital X-ray there and then and secure the player’s safety. This idea could not only help the medical profession but also save lives,” the youngsters previously told the Saturday Star.
When they first heard about the competition, the twins attended the Red Bull Basement workshop at the University of Johannesburg.
“We want to take this project further and are hoping to get funding so we can develop the product.”
The South African sisters and 43 other teams from around the world participated in the three-day event, with workshops and mentorship sessions available as well as access to some of the world’s most visionary thought leaders.
The technology solutions envisioned by the Red Bull Basement finalists centre on eight sustainability categories inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Body & Mind, Career, Clean Water, Climate Action, Education, Empowerment, Energy and Smart Cities.
Their ideas were pitched to global visionaries including Kudzi Chikumbu, a leader in community and creator at one of the world’s biggest entertainment short-form video platforms.
He was joined by Gener8 founder and CEO Sam Jones, World Wide Generation Founder and CEO Manjula Lee, Intel’s gaming and e-sports general manager Marcus Kennedy and senior vice-president: marketing operations at NTT Ltd, Ceri McCall.
Students from past editions of Red Bull Basement have gone on to create a global impact, as was the case in 2020 when Brunel University's Joanna Power and Paramveer Bhachu designed and built an innovative water-saving device, the Lava Aqua X portable electric washing machine.
The twin’s interest in science and technology has grown significantly since the creation of their Digital X-Ray Glasses.
“We then started entering innovation competitions like the Eskom Expo, where we learnt a lot and it was clear that there’s something in our idea, we might just be able to fully develop X-ray glasses which will help rural communities across South Africa where a hospital is not close by.”
The Mphahleles believe technology to be a critical field which is constantly improving.
“It’s the present and the future, and girls should be part of this and not stand on the sidelines.”
They also want to inspire the next generation of young science and technology enthusiasts in South Africa.
“Reaching the global final means we can be taken seriously, and it shows other kids from townships that no matter how weird your innovation is, if you believe in it you should push to make it happen,” they said.
“The Global Final will hopefully create more opportunities for us and young inventors around the world.”
The twin sisters’ advice to aspiring girls who are interested in science and technology is simple: “Be good at science in maths at school and grab each opportunity that comes your way because determination is key.”