The Next Generation of Tech Geniuses Are Solving the World's Biggest Problems

Posted by Liz Dwyer

imagine.cup

We hear lots of talk about how students need to be highly educated so that they're prepared for the tech workforce of the future. While that's certainly true, figuring out how to use what you're learning to solve the world’s toughest problems is just as important. To that end, Microsoft has, for the past 10 years, backed socially responsible innovation through the Imagine Cup, an annual student competition that encourages the next generation of tech developers to create software that addresses global problems like education, poverty, healthcare access, and environmental sustainability.

We talked to several of the finalists—and the competition's overall winner—last year to find out more about their projects and hear what they thought could get more students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math. This year's crop—106 teams of high school and college students from 75 countries—also has its standouts:

1. Technology Lanterns: This all-female team for Qatar University in Qatar wants to make it easier for blind people to get around. They’ve developed a platform that uses a Kinect camera sensor, 3D sound, and augmented reality software to help blind people identify direction, distance, and places.

2. Stechocloud: Pneumonia is a top killer of children around the globe, but with early detection, countless lives could be saved. To that end, this team from the University of Melbourne in Australia has created a cloud-powered, mobile-hybrid stethoscope that can help.

3. Flashfood: According to the USDA, one in four children doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. In order to more quickly assist low-income families, this team from Arizona State University has created a smartphone app that helps coordinate food donation deliveries.

4. Team Revolution: How do people interested in using recycled waste and biofuel figure out when a restaurant has some available? This team from the University of Wollongong in Dubai in Dubai has created the Reutilizer, a mobile application and website that uses a mapping algorithm to make waste collection by individuals and stores more efficient.

5. Cipher256: Infant mortality is a serious problem across the globe, so this team from Makere University in Uganda has created a mobile phone app that can help midwives examine expectant mothers by checking a baby’s heartbeat and size.

Those teams and their peers from around the globe will head to Sydney, Australia next month to compete for $175,000 in cash prizes. GOOD’s going to be heading to the competition too in order to meet the students and find out more about how they got inspired to use their STEM skills to make a difference.

What’s also nice is that, although each year the winners receive cash prizes and recognition, Microsoft’s investing $3 million over the next three years to make sure the most game-changing ideas actually move beyond the prototype phase. This year they’re supporting Lifelens, a project from an American team made up of students from four universities that designed a groundbreaking smartphone app that can diagnose malaria. In a world where talk about tech endeavors can seem overly focused on how much money they're making, it's nice to see students being encouraged to use their skills for social good.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user ImagineCup