This week, 35 teams of students from around the world will be part of Microsoft's Imagine Cup World Finals, on July 28 and 29, 2016. In a recent blog post, Microsoft highlighted some of the competing teams which are leveraging technology in innovative ways to overcome life challenges.
To begin, Mohamed Zied Cherif and his three teammates from the team Night's Watch (they're all Game of Thrones enthusiasts) will be competing in the World Citizenship category with their Smart Hand prototype. Cherif, who has been affected by a birth defect that left him with a disabled right hand, wanted to invent something better than the prosthetic hand that he used for some months as a child before giving it up.
The team's Smart Hand prototype is a programmable electronic prosthetic device that doesn't require any surgery. It relies on an arm band that detects muscle movements and that sends the data to a mobile app, allowing the user to customize the movements for the task at hand. Cherif explained that he can use the prototype for using a computer or even help his mother to cook, and he and his team hope that their participation to this year's Imagine Cup will help them refine their prototype. He added:
I can wear it two minutes, or I can wear it for hours, and it does not bother me. “I don’t think about catching up with my colleagues in class anymore. It makes an impact on my life — and I am certain it will on many people.”
The four members of the Greek team AMANDA are also competing in the World Citizenship category. Their team's name come from Amanda Todd, a Canadian teen who took her own life in 2012 after making a video detailing her experience being bullied. For all the team members, discovering the video was a "really moving moment".
Since then, they have been working on a virtual reality experience where participants will encouter interactive scenes involving bullies and victims. By their actions, players can have a direct impact on the different situations and a Microsoft Band is also used to measure biometric data and evaluate whether participants show empathy or not.
The team hopes that the virtual reality app can help young people to better understand the consequences of bullying. While they are already testing the experience with some students, they would ultimately make it available in schools around the world.
Next, the HealthX team composed by current and former University of Utah students is competing in the Imagine Cup Innovation category. Their project is a playful way to detect and treat amblyopia, a common eye affliction that is too often undiagnosed all over the world. The pathology also called "lazy eye" is usually detected in a full eye exam, but it needs to be diagnosed early as it can lead to learning disabilities for children. Furthermore, "lazy eye" also gets harder to treat as children get older.
The team developed a game which is played using only your eyes to look at objects on the screen. One game mode is designed for diagnosis and the other one is used for treatment. According to the team, the game is really fun to play and they are already testing it in clinical trials. HealthX team member Ahmad Nassri added that “we’re offering a solution that’s affordable that can fix a problem that is personal to a lot of people.”
In the Imagine Cup Games category, the four members of the Brazilian Tower Up team took inspiration from the country's impoverished regions to develop a first-person runner game called “Sonho de Jequi,” or “Jequi’s Dream.” In the game, Gamers play a young boy who must avoid various obstacles to collect water to save his family and the valley where they leave from drought.
However, the most interesting aspect of the game is that it actually engages players to take action in the real world: the team has indeed partnered with Cáritas, an NGO that builds reservoirs and wells, and players can donate money to help Jequitinhonha Valley residents with their water needs. Hoping that the game can help make a difference, Developer Ramon Coelho de Souza explained that “it has always been my desire to make the world a better place after me, and knowing the need of where I come from, this is a good start."
Lastly, The Croatian team Home Guardians is also competing in the World Citizenship category with their 'Juvo - Home Friend" project. Juvo, a Latin word for “help” or “save," is a system designed to help parents wanting to ensure their kids' safety.
Juvo combines a plush toy, a bluetooth-enabled bracelet and some smart sensors connected to a Raspberry Pi device connected to Microsoft's Azure cloud. To use the system, parents first have to place the sensors in potentially dangerous areas of their house. Then, they will have to give their child the stuffed toy and also have him wear the bluetooth bracelet. Once it's done, each time the child will approach one of the sensors, parents will be notified through a mobile app and the plush toy will also immediately start to play a recording of the parents voice or sing a lullaby to get the child attention before the parents can reach him.
The Home Guardians team hopes its project could help families with children under age 3, but it could be especially useful to protect children with developmental disabilities.
Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president of Developer Experience and Microsoft’s chief evangelist shared that he's very proud of what all the Imagine Cup's competing teams have accomplished so far:
Year in and year out, I’m incredibly impressed by the ingenuity and creativity shown by our Imagine Cup competitors, and this year is no different. From apps for diagnosing disease to compelling virtual reality games to clever wearables, this year’s Imagine Cup teams are pushing the envelope of student innovation.
The winners will be able to get more than $200,000 in cash and prizes plus a private mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. If you want to watch the Imagine Cup awards ceremony, tune in here at 9:30 a.m. PT Thursday to see who wins this year’s Games, Innovation and World Citizenship competitions.