Microsoft has announced the winners of the ninth annual Microsoft Imagine Cup, honoring student innovations that address global challenges such as improving road and fire safety, eradicating poverty, and creating a more sustainable environment.
Students from 183 countries started out participating in the early stages of the Imagine Cup, the company’s premier student technology competition. Narrowed from a field of more than 350,000 global registrants, more than 400 students from 70 countries traveled to New York to compete in the finals.
In addition to naming the winners of the competition, Microsoft unveiled plans to launch a three-year, $3 million competitive grant program to help recipients realize their vision of solving the world’s toughest problems. Imagine Cup teams will be eligible to apply for grants that include a combination of cash, software, training, consulting and other support. Microsoft will announce details about the grant program and application process later this summer.
This year’s competition winners were announced July 13 at the Imagine Cup World Festival and Awards Ceremony at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. The event culminated a six-day celebration of technology, hard work and ingenuity. The festivities included remarks from philanthropist, activist and actress Eva Longoria; Scott Case, CEO of the Startup America Partnership; and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“The innovators, entrepreneurs and humanitarians who compete in the Imagine Cup have developed an inspiring spectrum of projects, raising the bar higher and higher each year,” said S. Somasegar, senior vice president of the Developer Division at Microsoft, in a statement. “We are in awe of the students’ solutions for addressing social and real-world challenges, and want to help them take their projects to the next level with the financial, technical and business support they need to change the world.”
A team from Ireland, known as Team Hermes, won the Software Design competition for a project aimed at helping change driving habits and reducing road deaths, which impact a significant number of young lives each year. Team Hermes designed a device that plugs into a car and monitors dangerous driving behavior and road conditions, providing instant feedback to both the driver and car owner. The team’s solution uses embedded technology, Windows Phone 7, Bing Maps and the Windows Azure cloud computing platform. With its victory, the team won $25,000.
“We have a problem in Ireland; that problem is deaths on our roads,” said Team Hermes member James McNamara in a statement. “Thanks to Microsoft and the Imagine Cup, we’ve been able to come together to solve this problem and save lives.”
In the Embedded Development category, Team NTHUCS from Taiwan won first place and $25,000. The team’s Right This Way project computes the safest fire escape routes, detected by a wireless sensor network in real time.
In the Game Design category, teams competed in three subcategories: Mobile, Web and Windows/Xbox. All winners focused on some element of environmental sustainability. In the Mobile subcategory, France’s Team Geekologic focused on renewable energy. In the Web subcategory, Poland’s Team Cellardoor created the “Book of Elm,” which encourages players to take care of the environment. And in the Windows/Xbox subcategory, Brazil’s Team Signum Games tackled urban problems involving health, education and the environment through a strategy game. Each first-place team earned $25,000.
A complete list of the 2011 Imagine Cup winners can be found here.
Microsoft Imagine Cup 2011 Winners Tap Windows Phone, Cloud and Bing
title=Focus on Environmental Concerns}
Student projects are frequently inspired by United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and participants seek to solve the world’s toughest problems through technology, Microsoft said. As such, this year’s Imagine Cup teams focused heavily on environmental concerns, with 24 percent of worldwide finalist projects and 60 percent of all Game Design projects shedding light on environmental issues.
Taking a cue from recent world events, natural disaster relief was another common theme: 23 percent of projects addressed varying aspects of disaster relief. Inspired by improvements in mobile technology and accessibility features such as speech recognition, more teams than ever-22 percent-developed projects that would enhance the lives of people with disabilities, Microsoft said.
Windows Phone 7 was the most commonly used technology in the competition. Forty-eight percent of teams incorporated the mobile technology into their world-changing projects, which ranged from finding the nearest recycling center to helping those in a disaster broadcast their locations. Windows Azure was also popular: 32 percent of projects relied on the cloud-based platform to aggregate crowd-sourced data and to integrate satellite data, among other uses.
2011 marks the ninth year Microsoft has sponsored the Imagine Cup. The company was founded around its focus on developers, and it remains close to those developer-oriented roots. As such, Microsoft tends to keep a finger on the pulse of developers and to try to reach them at early stages in their development. In essence, Microsoft views the Imagine Cup as a way to get a peak at top talent coming into the workforce.
A description of the competition on Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Website says: “The Imagine Cup is a way for you to use your creativity, imagination, and brainpower to open up a world of opportunities after graduation. And to make a name for yourself in the world of technology. Some past competitors have gone on to secure a great internship or the perfect job, while others have started their own companies based on their Imagine Cup project-and it’s all in the name of helping to solve the toughest problems using technology.”
The 2011 Imagine Cup featured more women competitors than ever-twice as many as in 2010, including four all-women teams.
According to the Next at Microsoft blog, Jane Prey, senior researcher at Microsoft Research, is looking at ways to improve the recruitment and hiring of women at Microsoft and says the challenge is partly one of supply. “It’s not that we’re turning women away; it’s that there aren’t enough qualified women available,” she says.
And in an interview with the Official Microsoft Blog, John White, executive director and CEO of the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest educational and scientific society focused on computing and computer science, spoke on the issue of women in technology.
“The disparity persists,” White said. “There is a huge effort amongst corporations and nonprofits like ACM to address the myriad issues around what keeps young girls from getting interested in IT and computing. One of the image problems computer science has, especially among women, is that you’ll always work alone locked in a cubicle. Imagine Cup does a good job of fostering a sense of team work. Working with others is an element that draws more women into the field.”
As for participation in the Imagine Cup, White said: “The teams that participate and win are highly sought after. Computer science students on a winning team in the finals are seen as superstars. These are major accomplishments. The individuals, the teams and the field of computer science get visibility. Recruiters at companies pay attention to which teams are in the finals. The winners of these awards are getting internships at major computing companies. It opens up doors.”
Microsoft Imagine Cup 2011 Winners Tap Windows Phone, Cloud and Bing
title=Ballmer Kicks Off Imagine Cup Finals}
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off the Imagine Cup finals July 8 with an opening speech and a rousing welcome from the students. While some people in a different part of New York may have had reservations about Ballmer continuing to hold the reins at Microsoft, one would not have known it based on the standing ovations and enthusiasm from the student developers present at the Imagine Cup finals opening ceremony in Times Square.
Ballmer said this year marked his first time attending the Imagine Cup, and he apologized for that.
“This is actually for me my first Imagine Cup final. I feel terrible and guilty about that,” Ballmer said. “But, even more important, I feel like I’ve missed so much. As I was preparing to come on out, flying out yesterday … I found myself getting real fired up and excited. I get to actually go see people who love technology and are doing amazing work with it. And then [when] I arrive, I meet some of the finalists, I look at some of the projects, and in a sense, I’ll tell you, it more than anything brings alive to me why I love what I do and I love what Microsoft does.”
Ballmer then gave students a tour of the key Microsoft technologies the company is focusing on, including the cloud, Windows Phone, Bing and more. He also noted that Windows Azure, Bing Maps and Windows Phone 7 were used heavily in many of the projects.
Yet, “The one that I thought was most interesting was about 10 of the projects actually used Kinect hooked together with the PC, and a lot of the interesting projects in health care, rehab [and] education particularly saw a lot of value in the technologies we’ve built in Kinect that help recognize the voice, motion, skeletal tracking and the like,” Ballmer said. “So, the kinds of interesting things you’re doing, coupled with the kinds of interesting things that we’re doing at Microsoft, I think, are really quite remarkable.”
Finally, Ballmer encouraged the students to come up with good ideas, be passionate about their work and be tenacious in their execution.
Don’t Give Up
Dennis Crowley, CEO of Foursquare, followed Ballmer in addressing the students and offered a similar refrain.
“The first lesson is don’t give up with whatever you’re working on,” Crowley said. “There’s always going to be people that tell you they love your stuff, and there’s going to be people that tell you they hate your stuff. There’s always going to be people that don’t get it. And so keep in mind that if you have good ideas, just keep working on them to make them right. If the time is not right now, it might be right in a couple years, it might be right when you get some more people, it might be right when you start to learn a little bit more. So, just keep plugging away at that.”
Longoria was on hand at the closing ceremony to present the Imagine Cup People’s Choice Award to Team Rapture from Bangladesh. This is the only Imagine Cup award determined by the public, and it includes a $10,000 prize. Team Rapture created Third Eye, a Windows Phone 7 device for the visually impaired that provides an assistive camera and a special user interface with vibration, speech feedback and voice command.
Microsoft President of North America Sales & Marketing Robert Youngjohns participated in the ceremonial flag passing to mark the transition of host country duties. Pip Marlow, managing director from Microsoft Australia, and Gerard Seeber, deputy consul general and senior trade and investment commissioner of Austrade, were on hand to accept the flag on behalf of Australia, which will host next year’s Imagine Cup in Sydney.
Imagine Cup 2011 sponsors included the following: Avanade, Bradesco, Dell, Microsoft Game Studios, Microsoft Interoperability, MyBytes, Nestl??«, Orchard, Poland Spring, Red Bull, Sony, TakingITGlobal, Windows 7, Embedded Development and Windows Phone.