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The Imagine Cup in its 6th Year; Imagine Cup 2008

Microsoft helps Tomorrow’s Innovators Build a Better Future

"Imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment..." Now imagine you could actually be a part of making that world a reality! You guessed right... ‘Imagine Cup 2008’ is back once more, to inspire, encourage and bridge the gap between the world you imagine, and the one you live in. Now, in its sixth year, the ‘Imagine Cup’ is Microsoft’s way of inspiring young people to apply their imagination, passion and creativity, to technology innovations that could help create a better world for us all. Last year’s competition had an overwhelming response of over 100,000 university and high school students, from 111 countries across the globe.

The ‘Imagine Cup’ is the world’s premier student technology competition where teams submit their projects for a chance to compete at the global finals, to be held on the 22nd of April this year, in the ‘City of Love’ itself, Paris, France. An annual project of Microsoft, the competition welcomes students to apply their technical and creative talents toward solving a different social challenge each year. Two of our very own teams represented Sri Lanka at the World Festival in Seoul, South Korea last year, with the ‘Short Film’ team making it right through to the Worldwide 6. Awaiting this year’s results from the first round of other competition categories, we hope more Lankan teams will follow suit. Already over 600 students have registered from Sri Lanka this year; more than double the number of registrations compared to last year. Lankan teams have shown a keen interest across the board this year, with entries in almost all the competition categories, (20 teams competing in the Short Film category and 10 teams in the Photography category).

“Our larger mission in working closely with academia is to empower students from diverse cultures, economic backgrounds and educational institutions to achieve their personal and professional goals,” said Wellington Perera, Developer Evangelist of Microsoft Sri Lanka. “We are committed to supporting diverse outlets for students to pursue their technological and creative interests beyond the classroom,” he added. “These students represent the next generation of innovators who will help lead the technology field in delivering bold new solutions to some of life’s toughest challenges,” elaborated Wellington, “We continue to be astounded by the creativity, resourcefulness, and sheer enthusiasm that they bring to the Imagine Cup experience,” he concluded.

UNESCO, which has signed a global cooperation agreement with Microsoft to promote socio-economic development around the world, is pleased to officially endorse the ‘Imagine Cup’, which is in keeping with their unique mandate to promote international cooperation in the fields of education, science, culture and communication. This competition provides a creative forum to encourage young people to apply their imagination to technology around the 2008 theme, imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment. “With its unique mandate to promote the free flow of ideas and knowledge, UNESCO fully endorses the principles and the purpose of the ‘Imagine Cup’ as a great initiative to engage and enthuse young technologists in the pursuit of excellence and innovation in technology,” said Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, UNESCO. “The Imagine Cup is truly a global contest of software creation, capturing not only the spirit of competition, but also the broader goal of tackling development challenges through innovation. We recognize the importance of developing ICT expertise amidst youth throughout the world. By challenging students to develop working solutions to development challenges, the Imagine Cup allows new ideas and new economic opportunities to flourish,” he added.

The ‘Imagine Cup 2008’ has been altered slightly from last year in relation to its 9 categories. This year, the Web Development category is discontinued and a Game Development category has been introduced, thus inviting students to develop games using Microsoft XNA Game Development Studio. Also, these nine competitions are grouped overall under three main sections, namely, Technology Solutions, Skills Challenges and Digital Arts. Software Design, Embedded Development and Game Development are grouped under Technology Solutions and Algorithm, IT Challenge and Project Hoshimi are grouped under Skills Challenges while Short Film, Photography and Interface are grouped under Digital Arts.

To add to the satisfaction of creating innovative solutions to real-life social issues, winners are also rewarded with many cash incentives. In addition to the main competition prizes at the worldwide competition, Microsoft has also introduced several new prizes, such as the Software Design Windows Live Award with a cash price of $10,000 and The Interface Design Accessible Technology Award with a cash price of $8,000.

The ‘Imagine Cup’ also exposes students (sometimes for the first time) to work in depth with the latest Microsoft technologies such as Microsoft.NET XML Web Services and Microsoft Visual Studio® programming tools. The competition also introduces participants to some of the company’s other academic support programs such as MSDN® Academic Alliance, which provides access to Microsoft developer tools - platforms, and servers for instructional and research purposes, Microsoft Student Partners - a global outreach effort on university campuses worldwide, and Academic Days - which are conferences sponsored by Microsoft that bring together faculty to discuss current topics in computer science teaching and research. With all the unique learning opportunities and new experiences available to students via this competition, it’s quite justifiable to state that there can be no real losers.

You don’t have to take our word for it though, here’s what some former competitors had to say.

Team SARA of the Faculty of Information Technology at the University of Moratuwa, submitted the winning entry at last year’s local competition. Their project ISECED or Integrated Services for Early Childhood Education and Development was a web and mobile-based software which had its primary intention to support early childhood education and development. The application provided strong communicational and analytical capabilities required for an integrated approach towards early childhood education. The services included within the application were designed in alignment with UNESCO policies for early childhood education and development. According to Sanjaya Ratnayake, leader of Team SARA “ When we were informed of the competition 6 months ago we knew the door was opening for creativity and talent, so we got together and started thinking about a suitable project. This was the most difficult phase as we spent around one month to select a project topic and now we realize the value of that initial time spent. With the decision to do this project on early childhood education, we set out to prepare the proposal and after it was selected for the finals there was a daunting task ahead of us to develop the system in a relatively shorter time. As just second year students we were not the most competent people in some of those technologies, therefore we had to learn them first before using them for development. Our batch mates, faculty staff beginning from the Dean, all the lecturers as well as the non academic staff gave us a superb support from the beginning to the end. At the final stages when it came to presentations many of our senior lecturers guided us to deliver a good presentation at the big event. Finally we made it to the world final and there we worked hard to put Sri Lanka’s name high in Korea.”

Team Trivial from the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco Brazil, who won second place in the 2006 Software Design category, for creating a navigation system called Virtual Eye, designed to assist the visually impaired. The Virtual Eye combined specially designed wristbands, wireless internet technology, and mapping software to help guide users in unfamiliar environments. In the process, Ivan Cardim Cordeiro and his team-mates learned an invaluable lesson in stretching the boundaries of what we believe is possible. “Although we started out just doing this project for the Imagine Cup competition, we emerged from it feeling as though we were doing something that actually mattered,” Cardim says of Virtual Eye, which was partly inspired by concern about his grandfather’s failing eyesight.

“Even though we were in a competition, the bonding between teams was fantastic. We learned so much from looking at each other’s projects and sharing our experiences,” said Carlos Monteiro Rodrigues, another member of Team Trivial.

For some ‘Imagine Cup’ participants, the worldwide finals yielded further opportunities to develop their project ideas, such as the top six Software Design teams being invited to attend the Imagine Cup Innovation Accelerator. Now in its third year, the joint project of Microsoft and BT guides these champions into the next stage of developing their innovative ideas as a business. The program gives these students the novel opportunity to work closely with technology experts and business professionals from Microsoft, BT, other leading IT companies and top universities, on strategies for transforming their software concepts into working, marketable products. While participants could potentially be offered the chance to continue working with BT and Microsoft to develop their ideas, the students retain all intellectual property rights and control over what they have created.

“It gave us a more global point of view about software development and the confidence to try and turn our idea into a business,” said Sven Stegelmeier, one of the German creators of the navigation system ‘Trailblazers’. This project was designed especially for people with disabilities to locate barrier-free travel routes.

For the Norwegian team – ‘Team NTNU’ who developed a software application called Medi-Watch designed to integrate data from various health monitoring devices, such as a patient’s heart monitor and glucose meter, and transmit the information through mobile devices to health-care providers and family members. At the close of the Innovation Accelerator, team members Goran Hansen, Hans Olav Norheim and Jonas Folleso received an award for writing the best business plan. “I had already learned a lot about the dynamics of working on a team and how to solve tough problems, which was a big plus during my interviews,” says Jan-Kristian Markiewicz a member of the team, who’s now been hired by Microsoft as a Program Manager. Markiewiecz adds that he is still applying lessons and skills he acquired through the competition in his professional career. “You learn so much from this type of project because you have to do it all: come up with an idea, design it, and present it to other people in a compelling way,” he says, adding “a lot of that has turned out to be more valuable than what I learned in school.”

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