Projects that help the hearing impaired, cut wasted electricity use, and use social media to promote volunteerism won the three major awards handed out at the 8th Annual Imagine Cup World Finals in Warsaw, Poland.
Team Skeek from Thailand won in Software Design for its project to translate sign language, SmarterME from Taiwan won in Embedded Development with a device that targets a home’s biggest energy users, and By Implication from the Philippines won in Game Design for a game that uses to social media to help get young people interested in volunteering.
All the teams awards at this year’s Imagine Cup represent the spirit of the annual week-long technology competition, said Jon Perera, general manager of Microsoft’s education strategy.
“On Sunday, the entire world's attention will be focused on world championship of football,” Perera said, referring to Sunday’s World Cup championship soccer match between Spain and the Netherlands. “Tonight, the entire world is focused on you and the World Cup of technology.”
Four-hundred students gathered in Warsaw’s Opera House to close out this year’s Imagine Cup finals. More than 325,000 high school, college, and university students in 113 countries and regions had registered for this year’s competition. Cash prizes totaling approximately $240,000 were awarded across five competition categories and six awards.
This year’s competition was dominated by Taiwan, which won three of 11 of competitions and awards. In addition to Embedded Development, teams from Taiwan won the Digital Media category and the Envisioning 2020 award.
Team Skeek was surprised it made it into the Software Design competition’s final round, so the team was thrilled when they found out they had taken first place in the competition’s preeminent category.
“Honestly, I am speechless,” said Pichai Sodsai, from Kasetsart University. “This is the moment of our lives. Like all of you guys, we don't wait for the future. We create the future, and we change the world."
The judges were impressed with how Skeek built software that uses speech and facial recognition technology and a text-to-sign language translator to translate sign language in real time, said S. Somasegar, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Developer Division. Somasegar presented the trophy and a check for $25,000 to the overwhelmed students. “We have a dream that all students will be equal in the classroom,” Sodsai said. “That’s why we built eyeFeel.”
Team By Implication from the Philippines won the Game Design award for a video game about saving the world through social action and volunteerism. In Wildfire, players take on some of the biggest enemies there are – rampant poverty, gender inequality, and environmental degradation.
After collecting their trophies and a check for $25,000, team member Philip Cheang took the microphone from presenter Vincent Vergonjeanne to say thank you in Polish, which he had learned during the week. He also thanked his fellow Imagine Cup participants. “Keep on changing the world,” Cheang said.
The crowd erupted into cheers and applause when Perera announced that all 400 finalists and competitors at the Imagine Cup will get a free Windows Phone 7. They each will receive vouchers that guarantee they will get one when the phones become available, which will be before they are for sale commercially, he said.
"There are hundreds of corporate people in Redmond right now saying, 'What did he just do?'" Perera quipped.
Earlier in the evening, Walid Abu-Hadba, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer & Platform Evangelism (DPE) group, presented an award to IT Challenge competition winner Weiqiu Wen. Abu-Hadba called the competitors in the IT challenge “heroes.”
“This award is for heroes, the IT pros who keep this world running,” Abu-Hadba said. “They are the true heroes of our industry. They keep us going and keep the industry alive.”
Abu-Hadba added that the Imagine Cup is the most important Microsoft event he attends all year. “That's because I get to interact with the future,” he said. “You are the future of our industry. You are delivering the future today, and I’m proud of you all for being here.” Team SmarterME took first place in the Embedded Development category for its Smarter Meter project, which provides detailed power consumption information to users. At a glance, homeowners can see what appliances consume power when and which ones are responsible for the bulk of their electricity bill.
At the end of the night, New York was announced as the site of next year’s Imagine Cup. Polish Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak passed off the Imagine Cup flag to Mark Hindsbo, the general manager of Microsoft's Developer Platform & Evangelism Group, and Hal Plotkin, the senior policy advisor in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of the Under Secretary.
As the ceremony wound down, Perera returned to the stage to congratulate every participant at the Imagine Cup 2010 Worldwide Finals.
“This whole event is about you and what you guys have done, which is nothing less than absolutely incredible,” Perera said. “Don't stop dreaming. Let this Imagine Cup be your starting point for something quite special.”