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Inventing the Future With Student Innovations

The Microsoft Imagine Cup has been underway this past week actively demonstrating that innovating with technology can help address unique challenges around the world.

Last year, First Lady Michelle Obama kicked-off the 2011 Imagine Cup competition with a video message inviting students to invent the future and compete in the international finals that would be hosted in the United States for the first time.

More than 350,000 students across 183 countries heeded the call and registered to participate. Out of both regional and global competitions, the top 424 students (124 teams) across 70 countries made it to the Worldwide Finals, which took place last night in New York City. They were joined by leading CEOs, entrepreneurs, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. 

In his State of the Union, the President talked about innovation’s critical role in helping economies across the globe, especially here at home, and the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to spur that innovation.  Now in its ninth year, the Microsoft Imagine Cup has been underway this past week actively demonstrating that innovating with technology can help address unique challenges around the world.  Each group of contenders was charged with the task of innovating technologies to address this year’s theme--“Imagine a world where technology can help to solve the toughest problems”--with specific encouragement to focus on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Over the past week--in addition to making it through multiple rounds of competitions--the students have made new friends, advanced ideas and knowledge, and potentially changed the future of the world! 

The United States is represented by five teams from across the Nation, including: 

  • Team Note-Taker in Software Design (Arizona State University)
  • Team LifeLens in Windows Phone 7 (UC Davis, UCLA-Anderson School of Business, University of Central Florida, Harvard Business School)
  • Team Dragon in Games/mobile (Rice University)
  • Team ICSquared (Ithaca College)
  • Team Syntax Errors  - Embedded development (Santiago Canyon College)

Inspired by the challenge to invent the future, Team Note-Taker entered Imagine Cup 2011, competing against 67 teams, this group found its direction when member David Hayden, an outstanding academic, struggled to achieve excellence in his degree program of mathematics as a result of his being blind.  The largest obstacle was learning without being able to see the notes on the whiteboard.  Thus David met with his team and began work on the Note-Taker--a device that has a camera with which you can “see the board” on a tablet and take notes correlating to what’s written on the board.

The teams hard work paid off as they placed second in software design.  Other creative technologies among U.S. teams were cell phone applications to diagnose malaria with 94 percent accuracy, designed by team LifeLens, and Team Dragons’ gaming device to measure breathing.  Team Syntax, the only team to be from a community college in the competition, was comprised of a 21 year old and four gentlemen over the age of 40 who strove to challenge the stigma that a junior college meant junior ideas. This team focused their design on a mobile computer capable of traveling with disaster relief teams to monitor supply levels during times of crisis to ensure faster aid responses to victims.

While all teams have done a great job demonstrating the value of innovation, three U.S. Teams: Note-Taker, LifeLens, and Dragon, represented the United States as contenders in the Worldwide Finals round of the competition.  Last night the winning teams were announced during the World Festival with Team Note-taker winning a silver medal followed by Dragon and LifeLens with bronze medals in their individual divisions; rendering them champions among the 350,000 students who entered the competition from around the globe.

Pierre Elias of the U.S. Team Dragon may have summed it up best when he said: “Innovation signifies the American spirit by collaborating through diversity to create something that changes the world.”

Click here to see photos of the U.S. teams, and learn more about the teams and other finalists by checking out the Imagine Cup website.

Natalie DeGraaf is a student volunteer at OSTP