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Imagine a world where technology helps solve tough problems

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Thursday, May 13th, 2010

As reported in IVC:

Technion teams dominate Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Israel competition held in Rishon Lezion.

Teams from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology took first and second place in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Israel, which challenges students worldwide to solve the world’s toughest problems with technology.

The competition, held at the College of Management, Academic Studies (COMAS) in Rishon Lezion on Monday, chose six finalists from 18 teams. Teams from universities across Israel competed, including one from COMAS, which placed third.

Microsoft’s Imagine Cup calls for students to “imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems.”

The challenges this year were to use technology to advance the United Nations’ Millennium Goals – fighting against hunger and for basic education, a right to health, and responsibility to future generations. Last year’s competition drew more than 300,000 applicants worldwide.

Almost 20 judges weighed in on the Israeli finals, including deans and computer science faculty from universities, venture capital partners, and chief technology officers from industry.

First place went to a team that designed the Help system, which facilitates fast and accurate response to emergency scenarios such as criminal attack.

The software runs on mobile phones, and can be triggered at the press of a button, or via automated timer. When activated, Help calls for help by sending Bluetooth transmissions and automatic SMS messages to pre-selected emergency contacts.

Help also documents the emergency event, storing GPS coordinates and cellphone info, which it uploads to a remote server. The information can be viewed by the user’s emergency contacts.

Three Technion students – Yoav Cantor, Keren Gorenstein, and Amit Gil – created Help.

“We started the project in October, and the last two weeks have been very intense for us,” Gorenstein said.

Each member of the Help team received an Acer laptop courtesy of Microsoft. The team will represent Israel in the worldwide finals of the Imagine Cup in Warsaw from July 3-8.

The worldwide software winner in 2009 was a team from Romania that designed UpCity, a program that connects citizens and government agencies by getting people involved at the grassroots level.

This year is only the second time an Israeli competition has been held. Last year’s Israeli winner developed an augmented reality version of Rubik’s Cube, which could be manipulated in front of a camera to provide show different problems and solutions to the Millennium Goals. The project was designed to promote awareness of the goals in an unconventional way.

This year’s Israeli Help team will be competing against, among others, the US finalist from the University of California, Davis. The US team’s project helps doctors in the field use mobile technology for early detection of vascular diseases among children in developing regions.

A very close second place in the Israeli competition went to Mech, a project designed to provide emergency medical alerts for people with health monitoring devices.

Tamer Salman of the Mech team explained their project as “a system that monitors health devices attached to peoples’ bodies, heart implants, blood pressure monitors, etc. A Bluetooth transmitter can send the information to a mobile phone, and then to a doctor.”

The device would automatically alert medical authorities when measurements indicate an emergency, allowing for a fast response.

MiHAPi from COMAS placed third. The project’s slogan is “you play, we buy, they’re happy.” It allows users to engage in a sort of Sims style interface, engaging with a virtual family as a way to connect with real families in need.

“The main thing is to help people located in a natural disaster reason. You design a [virtual] family, gains MiHAPi money by learning about the disaster – for example, you get 15 happy points by recording yourself on a webcam and sharing your vision of the problem,” Nati Tsechanski of the MiHAPi team said.

The program also allows users to donate real money to families in need. “Instead of going online and buying a Facebook gift for a dollar, you can choose to buy rice. We will send it to real families in the country in need,” Tsechanski said.

Another project that placed among the finalists was Life Document, which synchronizes a voice-recording of an event with a written record, allowing users to easily match up voice and written versions.

Project Sound Spot allows users to tag songs to specific places, allowing other users to hear the songs that match the place. Users can also connect with people who tagged the songs.

Asked about how first-place winner Help would fare in the worldwide finals, Eliaz Tobias, a chief technology officer of Microsoft Israel, was optimistic.

“Personal security in our world is complicated,” he said, speaking of the project’s theme. “Just yesterday, we all heard about the car bomb in Manhattan… Personal security is a very important thing right now in the world.”

Eran Shust, leader of Imagine Cup Israel, said, “We’ve tried to use the same judging criteria [here in Israel] that they will evaluate the projects against worldwide, and we’ll work to prepare them.”

Amit Gil of the Help team shrugged. “We’ll have to wait and see the competition,” Gil said.