At Imagine Cup, World Citizenship teams bring big ideas

The Innovation and Games teams at the 2014 Imagine Cup World Finals have brought plenty of creativity and excitement to the competition, but for the 13 teams competing in the World Citizenship category, code isn’t just a universal language, it’s a way to change the world.

Thursday afternoon, the teams walked the judges through their projects during 15-minute, hands-on demos at the Imagine Cup tent on Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington campus. It’s the first time the competition, now it its 12th year, has been held in the company’s hometown.

Smile Technology, or SMT, aims to help patients recovering from stroke with an app that uses Kinect to assist with speech recovery by tracking and displaying facial motion.

Though it took the Romania-based team three days to travel to the competition due to a canceled flight along the way, they were all smiles, explaining the benefits of their project to judge Jenny Lay-Flurrie, senior director of Microsoft’s Trusted Experience Team, which focuses on accessibility, online safety and privacy.

Judge Jenny Lay-Flurrie watches SMT demonstrate their "Smile Technology."

Judge Jenny Lay-Flurrie watches SMT demonstrate their “Smile Technology.”

“One of the biggest benefits of Smile Technology is that it’s non-intrusive,” explained SMT team member Andrei Pop Bogdan. “It makes recovery harder and patients get demoralized if you have to put something in their mouth.”

Lay-Flurrie suggested considering ways that the technology could be expanded to benefit children.

“They love Kinect,” she said.

“This is really cool,” she added. “I’m excited to see what you’re going to do with it. Your opportunity here, while you’re at Microsoft, is to ask as many questions as you can.”

Bogdan said the team was inspired by its interaction with the judges.

“We felt like we connected and it’s encouraging that the judges really want to help,” he said.

Catara, an app from the Nigeria-based High Rise team, seeks to reduce the rate of cataract surgeries through early detection of the condition using a Window Phone outfitted with a special lens.

A close-up photo is taken of the eye, which is then uploaded to a database and returns a diagnosis along with suggestions of who to call if it’s likely the subject has or will develop cataracts.

High Rise team member Benjamin Faleye explains the potential of Catara, an app that promises early detection of cataracts. (Photo credit: Joe Malinao / Filmateria)

High Rise team member Benjamin Faleye explains the potential of Catara, an app that promises early detection of cataracts. (Photo credit: Joe Malinao / Filmateria)

Judge Jane Meseck, Microsoft’s director of Global Citizenship and Public Affairs, quizzed the team on their plans to get the word out about Catara as well as the potential barrier to entry the $14 lens might present.

“I love your optimism, but I want to know how you’re going to get this into the hands of health care professionals,” Meseck said. “Getting people to download this is not as easy as you think.”

She jokingly suggested they could rename it “zombie apocalypse cataract app” to get noticed in what is becoming an increasingly crowded marketplace.

Team member Benjamin Faleye agreed that a partnership would be helpful, perhaps with a non-governmental organization.

Next steps?

“Keep iterating,” said Faleye, adding that the Imagine Cup competition has exposed them to “many different angles of how to look at problems, as well as many different people from around the world.”

Winners in the World Citizenship category, as well as Innovation and Games, will be announced Friday morning at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.

Aimee Riordan
Microsoft News Center