Thursday, December 08, 2022

Over 2 Million Imagine Cup Contestants Changed the World in 20 Years of Innovation

Two university students caught in pandemic lockdown fell in love during a semester abroad – and then came across an idea that could change the way scientists and engineers around the world do their research.

Egyptian computer science student Ahmed Kamel and Turkey’s neuroscience major Buklay Unaldi met at Minerva University in San Francisco and were studying in Buenos Aires in 2020. Then the pandemic hit, his degree was needed to keep him from the lab. He incorporated his strain into a solution: creating a robotic arm that can be observed and operated from afar, a simulation of a personal laboratory experience.

Their innovation promises to be such a boon to researchers – particularly from developing countries or disadvantaged groups with limited access to equipment and laboratories – that the judges of the 2021 Imagine Cup project to move on to the competition’s prestigious world championship. chose to

Now your 20. inth of the year, Microsoft’s unique global technology program sees more than 2 million students from 160 countries competing for prizes including training, mentoring, technology, promotions and cash. This rich history has supported the next generation of developers and creators as they contribute to the tech industry and create solutions to global problems.

Two People Standing Smiling
Bukley Unaldi and Ahmed Kamel (Photo by Barfin Karman)

“The most important thing was not the money or the rewards, but the experience that gave us credibility for our project as well as our resume, which helped us get a job after graduating last year,” says Kamel.

Unaldi adds: “It feels really empowering to have Microsoft’s support and recognition from showing our project to the world, and with that boost we managed to put together a team to work on this even more “

Remotely Operated Robot
Remotely operated robot by Ahmed Kamel and Bukley Unaldi (Photo by Kamel)

More than 600 university students have used the robot, which the newlywed couple patented last year. When they look for office space in Seattle, they set it up as a “third roommate” in their apartment, where Kamel is hired as a robotics engineer for Amazon and Unaldi as a distance teacher for Elite Open School. Got a job as They keep robots connected 24/7 to accommodate any time zone and are creating a company, Hands-On Labs, as they prepare to expand to online K-12 schools.

The winner of this year’s Imagine Cup will be announced on May 24 at Microsoft’s annual Build conference, where students can participate in free, specially curated virtual sessions to learn alongside professional developers.

Once dubbed the “Olympics for Software Design” by WIRED magazine writers, the Imagine Cup now offers the world champion $100,000 in cash, technology support, and a mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. This year, it has drawn a wider range of competitors than ever before: 67% of teams are comprised of women, and 17% are made up of high school students rather than traditional university-aged students.

“Our Imagine Cup competition is a great example of potential,” says Nadella, who served as a judge during his first year as CEO in 2014 and has mentored every world champion since. “For 20 years, students have shown us what is possible when they come together to apply technology to help solve the world’s challenges.”

Last year’s grand prize winning team was Reewaba, who coined their name from “Remote Well Baby”.

Team members were volunteering at a hospital in Kenya studying applied computing technology at a university when they saw the challenges faced by new mothers in rural areas. Monthly postpartum check-ups were abandoned because of long hospital visits and contributed to the high infant mortality rate. The group realized this was a problem that technology could tackle and created an internet-connected monitoring tool that health workers in villages could use to remotely collect a child’s weight, height and temperature. The integrated device automatically sends data to doctors, acting as an early warning intervention system to save babies’ lives.

“It’s a very emotional problem,” says Jeet Gohil, now a software developer who, along with teammate Abdihamid Abdi, is guarding the prototype through production so that it can be distributed for commercial use. . “We’ve seen mothers and children suffer, and we really wanted to help them.”

Five Students Meet Microsoft Ceo Satya Nadella Via Team Call
After becoming the world champion in the 2021 Imagine Cup, the REWEBA team had a mentorship call with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

During the Imagine Cup, the team met weekly with Microsoft consultants to improve the prototype’s software. And the event’s high visibility brought a strong community and networking opportunities, which opened many doors, says Khushi Gupta, who is now studying in Texas and recently applied for a patent for the group’s work.

Yet Imagine Cup teams often have an advantage, regardless of where they are in the competition.

Zbyněk Poulíček was runner-up in 2010 with his collaborative map – a new concept at the time – that enabled Czech rescue teams to guide each other toward victims trapped in rubble from a massive earthquake in Haiti. It provided navigation in difficult terrain amidst the lack of identification of the geological features that collapsed in the shock. Polisek had seen TV coverage of the disaster in Haiti and, in a burst of inspiration and youthful audacity, approached the head of a Czech nonprofit. He got an immediate call back: He needed his concept, and he needed it right now.

“I realized that technology could really make a difference,” Poulisek says.

Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates illustrated the project in a blog post, holding it as an example of the real-world impact fantasy cup ideas can have, and invited Polisek back to deliver a motivational speech at the 2011 event. had gone. He and his team not only felt the responsibility but the confidence to continue improving their prototypes and founded GINA Software, an acronym for Geographic Information Assistant.

A Man Holds A Screen With Two People In The Background
Zbyněk Poulíček (front) and his Imagine Cup team in 2010 (Photo by Jiri Salik Slam)

Being at the Imagine Cup World Championships and receiving feedback from competitors around the world helped build Polysek into the CEO of a company that now does business in more than 50 countries, with more than 250,000 active humanitarian organizations. There are user and first-responder entities.

“If it weren’t for the Imagine Cup, I wouldn’t have believed I had the power to create something that could have a global impact,” Polisek says. “Now GINA is used in the toughest conditions around the world, helping hundreds of thousands of users stay safe.”

The competition was originally aimed at getting the students excited about technology. The focus over the years has been to create real solutions across the Earth, education, health care and lifestyle categories, and projects have evolved as technology becomes more accessible. Student entries are more sophisticated and complete, some of which quickly attract funding and become commercial products.

But this is not the end goal.

“The Imagine Cup is aligned with our core mission: How do we help students achieve more?” Charlotte Yarkoni, who oversees student developer programs as Microsoft’s president of commerce and ecosystem within the cloud and artificial intelligence division. “It’s been a way of helping that ecosystem and the community at large. When you consider the deeply personal reasons that students have come to the table, how they have come from an underserved group or a community or a relative.” It’s really been amazing to me. The sheer amount of innovation and the pace of innovation is incredible.

“It’s something Microsoft has a deep investment in, which empowers the workforce and decision makers of tomorrow,” says Yarkoni. “The final gauge is, are we helping students to go out and make an impact?”

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