What is Longitude Explorer?

Find out more about the Prize

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Where did the Longitude Explorer Prize come from?

2014 marked the 300th anniversary of the original Longitude Prize, the first incentive prize of its kind set up by the British government to solve the problem of extensive losses at sea by enabling sailors to navigate accurately by knowing their exact coordinates. The eventual solution was unexpected. A humble clock-maker John Harrison developed the chronometer that went on to save thousands from peril and herald a new era of innovation.

In celebration of this amazing achievement, in 2014 Nesta extended its drive for innovation to young people all over the UK by engaging them in the Longitude Explorer Prize – a pilot programme for secondary school students aiming to enhance their STEM skills as well as soft and entrepreneurship abilities.

The first Longitude Explorer Prize 2014 engaged young people (aged 11-16) in satellite navigation in a completely new way. The all female team won £25,000 for their school as well as individual prizes. Their idea, Displaced, is a mobile app which help local charities support homeless people in their community. You can find more details about the pilot Longitude Explorer Prize 2014 here.

The second Longitude Explorer prize challenged young people (aged 11-16) to develop innovative, practical solutions that use the Internet of Things to improve health and wellbeing of people in the UK.  A prototype that helps people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder to communicate, won a £10,000 prize at the award event. You can find more details about the pilot Longitude Explorer Prize 2017 here and by watching our video below.

Why is it called the Longitude Explorer Prize?

Before SatNav, sailors had to guess where they were in the world based on how fast they thought their ship had travelled and in which direction. They could work out their latitude – their position between the north and south poles – by looking at where the sun was in the sky. To work out their longitude – their position from east to west – was guesswork. 

Not knowing your position at sea was dangerous and caused shipwrecks. In 1714, the British government launched a prize that would reward the creator of a device to measure longitude with £10,000 (more than £1 million is today’s money). They called it the Longitude Prize.

A watchmaker called John Harrison won for creating a special sea clock. Normally, clocks would have used a pendulum, but a pendulum doesn’t work very well if the clock is being moved by ocean waves. John’s clock did not use a pendulum and could keep the correct time in Greenwich, known as Greenwich Mean Time (or GMT).

It takes 24 hours for the earth to turn 360°, so one hour is equal to 15° of rotation (360°÷24=15°). If a sailor at sea could calculate the time by the position of the sun, they could look at the difference with GMT to work out their location…

So, if it is 12 noon at sea when the sun is at its highest position, but the sea clock says it is 3pm in Greenwich that means there is a three hour difference. That would mean the ship would be 45° west of Greenwich (3×15°=45°). 

Thanks to the sea clock, ships could find their precise position on the map. It changed the world forever.

Clever ideas can come from anyone – a problem that had troubled sailors for centuries was solved by a watchmaker from Yorkshire using science, technology, engineering and maths. The Longitude Explorer Prize is named in honour of the original Longitude Prize for young people to turn their great ideas into world changing solutions.

Timeline 2019/20 (Click and drag below)

23 Sept 2019

Applications open!

We launch this year’s prize!

14 Feb 2020

Deadline for entries

All entries are due by 5pm!

Jan 2020

Semi-finalists induction event

The Longitude Explorer Prize will host an event for the 60 semi-finalists.

March 2020

Finalists are shortlisted

We have out judges pick up to 30 finalists.

April 2020

Finalists development event

We will hold an event to help out finalists through to the next stage of pitching.

July 2020

Dragons Den style pitches and winner announced

We will be holding an event where finalist teams will pitch their projects. The winner will then be announced!