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UK Team Brings Its Local Social Network To Imagine Cup 2014

A social network developed during telepresence meetings is fighting for the $50,000 Innovation prize

On by Max Smolaks 0

This week, a student team from the UK is fighting for a $50,000 prize at the 12th annual Imagine Cup - a global student competition run by Microsoft.

Team Vanguard won the British finals with an idea for a mobile application called Ripple – a social network that connects people in a 500m radius.

But here’s the surprising bit – Vanguard developed their app during telepresence meetings, and some of the team members met each other for the first time just days before they were due to fly to Seattle for the worldwide finals.

Hyperlocal

Ripple was designed to fight the problem of “messages lost in the timeline”, when time- or location-sensitive content is not seen by its target audiences on platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

The idea of a local social network was born on a university campus, and the premise is simple: imagine you have a ’2 for 1′ offer on pizza, but nobody to share it with. Ripple allows the user to send a message to everyone in a 500 meter radius, and get an instant response. You could also ask for advice, or find a place to charge your smartphone – the possibilities for hyperlocal communication are endless.

14603290478_8f9379e043_zThree months ago, this idea brought together students Femi Awomosu, Guillaume de Boisseson, Mikhail Adedeji, and Danny Brown – a software developer who wrote the Ripple code after long sessions with his teammates on Skype.

“We were set up by Microsoft,” explains Danny. “These three, they had a good idea and got through the English finals without a product, and then they needed a developer. Since I’m a Microsoft student partner, the person in charge of the Academic Alliance in London put me in touch with the team, and we just went from there.

“There have been a lot of Skype meetings, and we actually only met each other for the first time two days ago.”

Ripple defeats spam by using reputation-based profiles – every message can be ‘liked’ or ‘disliked’, so  spammers will quickly find their profiles blocked. And since every profile is linked to a Facebook account, Ripple manages to avoid another bane of social networking projects – cyberbullying.

The relevance of messages to a particular user account is defined by a proprietary algorythm developed by the team, and the platform is monetised through native geo-targeted advertising.

In terms of infrastructure, it comes as no surprise that Ripple relies on the Azure Cloud and its Mobile Services component. But that doesn’t mean that the app is forever chained to Windows Phone – according to Danny, Azure simplifies cross-platform developement, so expect to see Ripple appear on Android and iOS.

Vanguard has beaten 26 teams competing for the right to represent the UK at the Imagine Cup finals. But the students have already registered a company and started looking for venture capital outside the Microsoft-sponsored event.

“We’ve already said to ourselves: no matter what happens, we are going to take the business forward. Even if we don’t win the $50,000, we can take the recognition, validation and networking, and find some potential investors,” Mikhail told us.

By the end of September, Team Vanguard will begin rolling out the app students, starting with 20,000 located at University of Exeter, where most of the team members are from.

Other interesting projects at this year’s Imagine Cup include:

Access Earth from Ireland – this team is developing a crowdsourced, interactive map of venues that have made an effort to ease access for disabled. It goes much further than just wheelchair ramps – the questionnaire includes 21 entries on things like lighting conditions and the presence of automatic doors and handrails. It is already available online and on Windows Phone.

Grant Fellow from the US have built an an online catalogue for research grant applications that simplifies access to funding. The team says that currently, looking for funding can take scientists up to 12 months, and this time could be better spent doing actual research. The project is currently in beta.

Tep from Hungary developed an application which inspires teenagers to excercise through a mobile ‘tamagochi’ – a virtual animal which is taken care of when its owner is engaged in physical activity. This makes for a more attractive way to display ‘activity tracking’ information, already compatible with such devices as Jawbone and FitBit.

AfriGal Tech from Uganda have created a mobile app that can diagnose Sickle Cell disease in three minutes using a chemical component and a special lens that fits on top of the camera. It could become especially important in places off the grid, with no acess to a qualified haematologist.

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Max Smolaks
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