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Microsoft Launches Imagine Cup 2013

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Students from 71 countries meet in St Petersburg with a chance for a prize from Matt “The Doctor” Smith

On Tuesday, student teams from all around the world met in St Petersburg, Russia, to fight for the Imagine Cup 2013 trophy.

The annual event organised by Microsoft has brought together 87 teams representing local finalists from 71 countries, with over $1,000,000 of prize money at stake. Some of the participants are fully-fledged start-ups already backed by venture capital, while some are just college students that managed to come up with a good idea.

From smartphone-powered laser tag to a set-top box that improves seniors’ quality of life – this is the place to see technology used in new, unusual ways. Quite appropriately, the finalists of the Imagine Cup 2013 will be announced on Thursday by none other than Matt “the Doctor” Smith.

Dream it. Build it. Live it.

This year’s Imagine Cup has attracted 70 percent more participants than in 2012. The competition is split into several categories including Innovation, World Citizenship, Games, Windows Phone Challenge, Windows 8 Apps Challenge and Azure Challenge. So what kind of ideas can net a student team a place in the finals?

ScreenshotFor example, team DORA from Slovenia have created the Doctor’s Operational Research Assistant – a Kinect-powered method of presenting patient data during an operation. Every time a medical professional leaves the sterile operating field, he or she needs to scrub up again, losing up to 15 minutes of valuable time. DORA helps surgeons avoid leaving the theatre to look through patient data at a nearby PC.

Members of the DORA team say their voice and motion-controlled system can cut the length of surgery, reduce stress for doctors, lower risk of infection and save money all at the same time. Using DORA, a surgeon can manipulate X-Ray images and various scans with his hand still covered in the patient’s blood.

The system relies on a host of Microsoft technologies including Visual Studio, SQL Server and Lync. It has been tested in a hospital environment, with positive feedback.

letssgoAnother example of innovative thinking comes from China, where team LetssGo developed “Get & Put”, which allows people to exchange data with their hands. The system uses biometric recognition, wireless connectivity and the Azure cloud to transform humans into “a medium of data transfer”.

When a user “grabs” data from a touchscreen, it is moved into the cloud and attached to his biometric markers, such as facial features. The same user can then “put” data in his hand into another touchscreen device, which will retrieve the data from the cloud and display it instantly upon correct identification.

Screenshot1Meanwhile, business-savvy surfers from InfinityTek, New Zealand have developed UV Sense – a tool which they hope will help drastically reduce the number of deaths from skin cancer. According to the team, 90 percent of melanoma is the direct result of overexposure to UV light. That’s why InfinityTek created a personal UV sensor linked to a smartphone app that can warn the user when they have been in the sun for too long.

UV Sense can tell a user exactly how much time they have before getting sunburnt, taking into the account the skin type and any sunscreens. The technology can be built into pretty much anything – sunglasses, hats, wristbands etc. –and InfinityTek is already talking to a major sunscreen manufacturer about a licensing deal. But the best thing about the tiny gizmo is it sends aggregated data directly to Cancer Research, helping to fight the good fight.

Sure, the Imagine Cup could be dismissed as one large Microsoft advertising campaign. The teams are gently encouraged to use Microsoft software and gear such as Kinect, since it’s provided for free. At the same time, no other student tech competition matches the sheer scale of the Imagine Cup, which is now in its eleventh year. And with the IT skills crisis threatening Europe, maybe we could use a few more events like this.

Look out for more stories about Imagine Cup 2013 in the next few days!

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