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Imagine Cup fuels students' inquisitive minds

Posted: 29 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Microsoft? Imagine Cup? embedded?

Bill Gates said it best. "I wish there had been an Imagine Cup when I was growing up. It gets people involved in seeing that software is changing the world."

Indeed, Microsoft Corp., through its annual Imagine Cup content, has transformed the software sector, but more importantly has touched lives of students, providing them opportunities to explore and innovate early.

This year's theme, "Imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment" attracted 300 teams from 30 countries. There were nine categories in all that students can compete: Software Design, Embedded Development, Game Development, "Project Hoshimi" (Programming Battle), IT Challenge, Algorithm, Photography, Short Film and Interface Design. For Embedded Development, finalists were trimmed down to 15, represented by teams from the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, China (2), India (2), Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Brazil, and the United States.

For their final solutions, the teams were asked to address one if not more of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 2015. They were given the x86-based DM&P/ICOP eBox-4300 hardware, and Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R2 and Visual Studio software to build their prototype devices. Each team had to configure, build, debug, and deploy a Windows CE operating system image. In addition, they had to build an application on top of the Windows CE image.

At the end of the challenge, the teams came up with solutions for intelligent recycling systems, home energy management/power consumption, air quality management, water pollutants and water quality including real time oil detection and protection system, road kill detection system, and all in one embedded system to manage changing environmental situation (water, air, soil etc.).

Emerging as winners in the Embedded Development were Team Trail Blazers from Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore, whose project, Environmental Monitoring System (EMS), earned them first place.

China's Team Wings meanwhile from the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, landed second place buoyed by their project AquaMarine.

In this e-mail interview, John Boladian, lead product manager, Windows Embedded, Asia Pacific and Japan, Microsoft Corp., talks about how the Imagine Cup evolved through the years. Moreover, the members of the winning teams of Trailblazers and Wings share their experience about the competition.

How has the Imagine Cup evolved since its inception? What has been the biggest achievement so far for Microsoft in holding the competition?
John Boladian: The Imagine Cup has grown to be truly a global event that challenges students to develop innovative technological and artistic projects that offer real-world solutions to real-world problems and also to contribute directly to the future of technology, software and computing.

With the introduction of Embedded Development category in 2007, students are now challenged to go beyond the desktop and use their creativity to build a complete hardware and software solution using Windows Embedded CE and the hardware provided to solve real-world problems.

The Imagine Cup is very important to Microsoft because it gives students an early opportunity to get a deeper understanding of Windows Embedded CE, build closer ties with Microsoft and an affinity for its platforms and tools, and enhances our developer ecosystem. This competition ultimately enriches the developer ecosystem by promoting and encouraging embedded systems design and overall excellence within computer science, computer engineering and electrical engineering classes. Our investment in Imagine Cup is a great way of promoting future interest and innovation in the embedded space; Microsoft also learns from students, whose fresh ideas and perspective gives us invaluable insight into ways in which we can improve our platform for the future.

The finalists of the Embedded Design category.

The Imagine Cup participants came from various parts of the globe. As far as Asian participants are concerned, how have they grown through the years in terms of number of participants, placement in the finals, maturity in projects etc?
Imagine Cup has seen great success since its inception in 2003, especially amongst students in Asia. This year, we had teams enter the Embedded Development competition from 30 countries including Singapore, China, Taiwan, India and Korea.

In the Embedded Development category, we are seeing more innovative projects from Asia each year. This year, seven out of the 15 finalists were from Asia and the winning teams were from Asia and Europe. The icing on the cake for Asia is of course Team Trail Blazers from Singapore who were the first place winners in the Embedded Development category. Their project 'Environmental Monitoring System (EMS)' is a testament to the creativity and innovation that Asian teams are capable of. Furthermore, Team Wings from China shared the second place prize with Team AcidRain from Ireland. This is a clear indication of competitiveness of Asian students, and we expect to see Asian teams continuing this success in future Imagine Cup competitions.

How does Microsoft see the competition evolving through the years? What can we look forward to next year?
Imagine Cup participants represent the next generation of developers, and their innovative designs give us great insights into the kinds of embedded devices that we may see in the future.

Over the years, the theme for Imagine Cup has been topical and has challenged students to showcase their creativity to solve real-world problems. The theme for 2008 was ' Imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment'. Continuing this tradition, the theme for the Imagine Cup 2009 has been set as ' Imagine a world where technology helps solve the world's toughest problems'

We look forward to Asian teams repeating the success they have shown this year for the Embedded Development category. The students' creativity and passion speak volumes about the promise of technology to make a true difference in our everyday lives.

What was the inspiration behind your project?
Team Trail Blazers (Members are James Dominic Pinto, project lead and Shi Ben Yong, technical lead): Imagine Cup is the world's premier technology competition and is an ideal platform for young technologists like us to showcase our ideas and solutions to a world stage. Being young aspiring engineers-to-be, we were inspired by the success stories of past winning entries, the innovativeness of their ideas and the elegance of their solutions. Further inspiration and support came from our faculty mentors, Mr. Wu Siong Wei and Mr. Liaw Sze Wong, who tirelessly mentored and guided us through the competition.

We are students from the School of Engineering (Electronics) of Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). For three of our team members, our specialization in the final year of study is in the area of embedded systems design. It was therefore natural that we participated in the Embedded Development invitational where we would be able to synthesize the knowledge we have acquired in the course of our study and apply them to solve real-world problems.

Can you give us a synopsis on how you came up with your projectfrom conceptualization to the development process up to the completion?
We were inspired by the Millennium Development Goals set by UNESCO. There were many different goals outlined, but we found common ground in addressing the drivers of air pollution since it has directly affected each team member - James is asthmatic while Denver's cousin has serious asthmatic problems. Poor air quality has tremendous effects on our health, as demonstrated during the South East Asian Haze of 1997. Shuhan and Ben Yong hail from China where air pollution is on the rise and has directly affected the human well-being and the ecosystem.

Emerging as first-place winners is Team Trail Blazers from Singapore.

What have you learned from joining the Imagine Cup?
It has been a joy every step of the way, from brainstorming to meeting with people from industries such as the National Environment Agency, Singapore Civil Defense Force, and Suntec City, who provided invaluable feedback to help shape and refine our solution. However, nothing can describe the sense of satisfaction and joy in seeing our ideas come to fruition. The camaraderie and friendship built up over this time is something that will last long after this competition.

How will winning the Imagine Cup help you in your future design projects?
We hope the Imagine Cup will serve as a springboard for us to commercialize our idea and solution. So while most of us plan to further our education after the competition, we hope to be able to do so while concomitantly developing our idea further and attracting interest from commercial companies and investors.

Winning the Embedded Development category has reinforced our belief that our Environmental Monitoring System solution has the potential to revolutionize the environmental monitoring market by providing a cost-effective compliance monitoring solution at a competitive price point.

What were the most difficult and the most fun parts when you were doing the project?
Looking back, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly which was the most difficult phase. The project was certainly challenging in that we had to make sure that the prototype met the real world requirements that had been put forward by the industry partners whom we consulted as part of the project. The team also put in place a very aggressive timeline. This resulted in many late nights and weekends spent in the labs.

However, our spirits were buoyed every time we manage to surmount a problem or fulfilled a project milestone. The most fun and exhilarating part was seeing the final prototype come together and working properly.

What was the inspiration behind your project?
Team Wings (Guo Li, mentor): When we saw the Imagine Cup poster for the first time on our campus, we felt eager to participate in it as it is a good opportunity to unleash our passion, our talent, and our imagination. For us, the Imagine Cup is not only a chance to prove our potential, but also a chance for using what we have learned to change the world. Moreover, the Imagine Cup is a chance to exchange our idea with students from all over the world, which will be very helpful for us in solving practical problems.

We think that an embedded device has a closer relationship with people's daily life and we can do more in this field to improve the environment and people's lives, which inspired us to choose the Embedded Development invitational. Our experience in developing embedded systems definitely made the choice easier.

Can you give us a synopsis on how you came up with your projectfrom conceptualization to the development process up to the completion?
Through our field research, we found that at present, there isn't an effective real-time monitoring system which ensures rapid reaction right after an oil spill occurs. On the other hand, oil spill pollution is getting more and more attention from every country all over the world. To address this situation, we conceived our idea to develop AquaMarine, a real-time monitoring system to enable a sustainable environment through technology.

Through embedded and wireless network technologies, AquaMarine will help people to discover the oil spill accidents immediately and send out in-time early warnings in order to speed up the reaction time and minimize the negative impact of the accidents to the environment.

What have you learned from joining the Imagine Cup?
One thing we learned from the Imagine Cup competition was the importance of conducting research and investigation. For our AquaMarine project, we travelled from Beijing to Qingdao, where the State Oceanic Administration of People's Republic of China is located. In the process, we learned that when facing a practical problem, there are practical steps we should take to solve it: Where should we cut in and what is the problem's key point. This allowed us to work efficiently and also see the problem from every possible angle.

How will winning the Imagine Cup help you in your future design projects?
We plan to introduce our solution to the State Oceanic Administration of People's Republic of China. This will help our system become widely used, which will surely lead to an improvement in the detection and prevention of oil spills in the ocean.

What were the most difficult and the most fun parts when you were doing the project?
While developing the prototype, we think the biggest challenge was to build the buoy in our project because it can be neither too big nor too small. If too big, it cannot achieve an accurate data acquisition. If too small, it cannot bear the awful environment in the ocean. The exhilarating part was to see the final prototype come together and work properly.

- EE Times-Asia

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