World's best young tech minds bid for $1m in prizes

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Crammed into a hotel in St Petersburg, Russia, about 300 of the world's most technologically savvy students are fighting it out this week for $1 million in prizes.

Over four-days of intense competition, teams and individuals from 71 countries are trying impress judges with often-groundbreaking software, game and mobile app innovations.

Those innovations include everything from a device which helps soldiers shoot more accurately by correcting their posture, to a beehive fitted with cameras and sensors which detects the presence of pests like the Varroa mite.

Microsoft's Imagine Cup is one of the world's premier student technology competitions and is now in its 11th year.

Flying the flag for New Zealand is Team InfinityTek, who have travelled across the world armed with a smartphone application designed to prevent sunburn.

The four young Aucklanders - Jacky Zhen, Muthu Chidambaram, Daniel Xu and Ming Cheuk - have developed a wearable sensor which tracks the strength of harmful UV rays on any given day.

By taking into account the user's skin type and sunscreen factor, UVSense calculates how long they can stay out in the sun for without getting burnt. This information is transmitted wirelessly to the person's smartphone.

When UVSense detects the user is in danger of getting burnt, it sends a notification alarm telling them to seek shade or apply more sunscreen.

While InfinityTek's presentation yesterday was described by one judge as "stunning and confident", the Kiwi team knows it has some tough competition.

Here's some of the more interesting, impressive and quirky innovations on show at this year's Imagine Cup:

Hateya

Dreamt up by four students from Belgium, Hateya is like a modern-day breadcrumb trail for firefighters.

The system helps firefighters find their path of exit from a blaze using a pair of glasses and sensory-equipped clothing. A device fitted inside the fireman's jacket records the path taken into the fire and gives them real-time visualisation of how to get back out. "Athough our idea is to help firefighters, its use can easily be extended to other actors such as rescue workers, spelunkers, police and many others sectors," the team said.

Kinect Infantry Training System

Singaporean team EyeCanSee have developed a Kinect-based tracking system which monitors a soldier's posture and helps them achieve greater accuracy with their shooting.

The soldier attaches the phone to the stock of a rifle and then gets feedback suggesting a posture adjustment and breathing techniques. KITS uses skeletal recognition on Kinect and sensors in the phone to generate visual analytics of each soldier's performance.

KITS is also designed to shorten the training time needed to get a soldier ready. "With KITS, we are able to provide a consistent training platform in the area of marksmanship to allow soldiers to hone their shooting skills quickly and effectively, with less manpower required," said team member Joshua Tan Jun Ming.

Beezinga

Beezinga is way for industrial-sized beekeepers to detect problems in their hives more quickly and with less effort. Sensors fitted to the beehive track temperature and humidity, while cameras and microphones show bee movement and behaviour.

Team leader Nenad Cikic said beekeeping was a traditional activity in Slovenia but many problems were wiping out the bee population, such as the varroa mite and colony collapse disorder (CCD). Beezinga allows keepers to monitor their hives remotely and be alerted to any issues much sooner than if they were observing with the naked eye. Data gathering and analysis are completely automated.

Edible

This smartphone app created by Kazakhstan's Team Merado enables the user to scan a food product's barcode to find out if it contains genetically modified organisms. "Edible will help you to choose healthy and checked food for you and your family." The team has access to a database of about 700,000 products. Edible can also be used by allergy sufferers to check for things like nut traces.

Piggy Spanker

Lying firmly in the 'quirky' category is team Puerto Rico's game called Piggy Spanker . Piggy the Pig is trying to run away from nasty chefs that want to turn him into bacon. The player acts as farmer, helping Piggy evade the pot by spanking him using a flick motion on the screen of the smartphone. You make him run faster by spanking him more quickly. Among the judges in the games category this year is Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov. We'll wait and see what he thinks of Piggy Spanker.

Save the Hamsters

Four Indonesian students have been getting plenty of attention at Imagine Cup for their educational game about a hamster who is lost and needs to get back home. In Save the Hamsters the player has to burst boxes and cut ropes to help steer the hamster in the right direction. Each hamster's body represents a number which needs to slot into the right place to complete a math equation. Although the game is free to download on Windows phones, the students have a clever business model based around merchandising. Players can unlock extra levels by purchasing a small hamster toy and holding the phone against it.

Omni-Hearing Solution

This smartphone app means people who are hard of hearing can ditch their hearing aid and use a Windows phone to process high and low frequency audio sounds. That means it shifts inaudible sounds into an audible range, making them easier to hear. Omni-Hearing Solution uses a Bluetooth headset connected wirelessly. "Traditional hearing aids only amplify sounds by different bands of frequencies, which results in a very limited speech intelligibility of the users because they cannot hear sounds of high frequencies," the Taiwanese team said.

"To tackle the problem, we adopt an unique audio signal processing technology in real-time to allow those with hearing problems to hear high frequency sounds while minimising the distortion of sounds in the process."

All students have now delivered their presentations and are counting down to the awards ceremony tomorrow night. Hosted by Dr Who actor Matt Smith, the ceremony will be streamed live online.

Ben Chapman-Smith travelled to the Imagine Cup as a guest of Microsoft.

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