Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems. That is the challenge posed for innovative young people participating in the ninth annual Imagine Cup in New York. The event, which runs through Wednesday, is billed as the world’s premier student technology competition, is hosted by the Microsoft Corporation.
Math student David Hayden is legally blind. He can see the screen on a computer tablet, but not the blackboard to take notes during class. He and his fellow students at Arizona State University came up with a solution - a portable swivel-head camera and software program that allows David to see blackboard writing or distant objects on the left side of his tablet. He can take notes on the right. Hayden says there are 20 million Americans with low vision, but only 40 percent of them fully participate in the work force.
"We believe the inaccessibility of education is in large part to blame for that, and so by equipping them with assistive technology that allows them to take their own notes in the same amount of time and the same ease as their fully-sighted peers, we believe it will provide them with better access to education, income and quality of life," Hanson said.
The Imagine Cup is linked to United Nations Millennium Development Goals that include achieving universal primary education, eradicating extreme hunger and poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability.
The team from New Zealand pursued another Millennium goal, combating disease. The New Zealanders created a software program to help fight malaria, one of the world’s deadliest diseases. The program pulls together satellite images, government data and text messages related to ongoing or potential outbreaks of the mosquito-borne killer. This helps optimize distribution of nets, vaccines and insecticides. Team member Edward Peek says the Imagine Cup represents a great opportunity.
"I’ve competed in the Imagine Cup before a couple of years ago, but didn’t make it through the national finals. So, I really wanted to take the opportunity to use some of my technical knowledge to actually make a change in the world," Peek said.
Microsoft Chairman Steve Balmer said projects presented in New York represent the final stage of a global competition in which young people from 183 countries participated.
"It’s a reminder to us that there is no border or boundary for the kinds of work that innovative ideas and hard work can drive in terms of a global impact on society," Balmer said.
The competition offers various cash and non-cash prizes. Many participants also showcase their projects in hope of attracting the attention of venture capitalists to fund production and distribution. The 10th annual Imagine Cup will be held next year in Sydney, Australia.