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GeekWire: ‘Teleporting holograms, a belt for fetal health, and more at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup student contest’

Team Pengram. From left to right: Bill Zhou, Will Huang, Vedant Saran. (Microsoft Photo)

Bill Zhou wanted to be able to help his mom fix the WiFi router when she called. The only problem? He was at school in Berkeley, Calif., and she was not.

“So I try to send her links online or send her videos or try to do a phone call with her, but it’s not really clear,” Zhou said. “And sometimes I wish I could just teleport my presence back home just for five minutes, show her what’s going on, and then teleport back to Berkeley to do whatever I’m doing.”

That personal desire was part of the inspiration for Pengram, an augmented reality tool for remotely assisting and collaborating on projects such as fixing equipment or assembling furniture. The Pengram team, made up of University of California, Berkeley graduate students Zhou, Vedant Saran, and Will Huang, will be one of 49 teams competing in the world finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup student competition starting Monday in the Seattle region. Imagine Cup brings together high school and college students who are “innovating and addressing some of humanity’s biggest problems.”

Pengram uses both augmented and virtual reality to “holographically teleport” an expert to assist on a task involving a physical object in another location. The expert, wearing a virtual reality device, can work in the virtual world on a virtual model of the object that needs fixing, such an engine. Whatever the expert does to that virtual engine will be reflected on the other person’s side, except in augmented reality, with an avatar representing the expert demonstrating on the physical object.

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“The operator will be able to see the expert as if he was actually there,” Zhou said.

Saran said the platform uses Microsoft Azure to deliver the content via the HoloLens device. Pengram allows users to watch experts in real-time or in previously recorded videos.

Though personal use was one part of the team’s vision for Pengram, inspiration also came from what the team noticed businesses needed. Companies worked with much more complicated machines, like wind turbines or locomotive engines. Zhou said that often, to repair the machines, they would have to fly out an expert because field technicians wouldn’t know how to fix them.

“So what they’re looking for is actually a remote assistance solution where the expert can teleport their presence to the field to assist their technicians anywhere in the world,” Zhou said.

Pengram has worked with companies like smartphone maker HTC to explore the possible uses for the platform. Zhou explained that any company could use Pengram’s capabilities in a unique way suited to their needs. HTC, which supports trade schools in China, finds pre-recorded assistance helpful in training students.

Flashes of Pengram’s capability can be seen in Microsoft’s own Holoportation project, which Microsoft revealed in 2016. Holoportation, like Pengram, uses the HoloLens as a tool to holographically transport 3D models into a physical space in real time, as if all participants were in the same space. In another demonstration, Microsoft showed how someone using a tablet in one location could annotate the real world for someone using a HoloLens in another, such as a plumber showing a homeowner how to fix a sink.

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The Pengram team, who have known each other for three years and met through the VR@Berkeley club when they were undergraduates, began the project at a Cal Hacks hackathon a year-and-a-half ago. Pengram won the Microsoft Imagine Cup U.S. Finals to advance to the world finals.

On the other side of the world in Pakistan, Iqra Irfan, Areeba Kamil, and Sami Ullah are developing a wearable belt that monitors fetal health. The team, named Fe Amaan, consists of three undergraduates in their last year at the National University of Sciences and Technology. They wanted to tackle Pakistan’s miscarriage and stillbirth problem, which they described as one of their home country’s biggest issues.

“One of the major issues we found in the healthcare facilities in our country is that there is not enough access to facilities for expecting women,” Kamil said. “And the women who have to suffer the most are women in rural areas, and then they become the target of stillbirths. Later on we also realized that this problem is not just confined to Pakistan, but it’s also a worldwide issue.”

Fe Amaan works as a remote fetal monitoring device, helping ease the consequences of a lack of access to medical facilities. The belt and corresponding Internet of Things sensor device, which sits on the mother’s abdomen, can monitor fetal movements and heart rate. It sends the data to a mobile app, which analyzes it and generate alerts if it detects any anomalies. The device uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to host its applications and to predict the state of the fetus in advance, based on the data gathered.

The Fe Amaan team. From left to right: Areeba Kamil, Sami Ullah, and Iqra Irfan. (Microsoft Photo)

The hope is that precautionary measures can then be taken before it’s too late.

“We believe it’s the right of every woman to have good medical facilities and we want to make sure it’s our aim to eliminate the risk of having a stillbirth,” Irfan said.

The three have were friends prior to the project, and decided to work on Fe Amaan as part of their senior projects for university. Fe Amaan has gone through clinical trials, which the team cites as the most difficult part of the process. The team participated in the Pakistan national finals and won the Middle East and Africa finals to advance to the world finals.

The Microsoft Imagine Cup World Finals will take place in Seattle next week, from July 23 to 25. The annual student technology and innovation competition requires participants to submit their software, instructions, and give live presentations on the team, the project, the target market, and how the team plans to bring the project to market.

Forty-nine teams, including Pengram and Fe Amaan, will compete on the world stage after winning national and regional competitions throughout the year. The winning team will get $100,000 and a mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

This year’s Imagine Cup, the 16th annual competition, includes awards for projects in artificial intelligence, big data, and mixed reality. The judges include Microsoft executive vice president of business development Peggy Johnson, coding community Glitch CEO Anil Dash, and software package management company Bitnami co-founder and COO Erica Bresica. Snowboarder and Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim will also be a special invited guest at the competition.

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Meet Europe’s challengers for the $100,000 prize in Microsoft Imagine Cup 2018

From environmental sustainability, protecting human rights, empowering the disabled and disadvantaged, driving up literacy rates and much more, technological innovation has the power to make our world a better place.

That’s where initiatives like Microsoft’s Imagine Cup come in – helping to encourage the brightest and best students to develop world-changing technology projects by unlocking their creativity.

Founded in 2003, it’s now the world’s biggest student technology competition, with tens of thousands of students participating from around the world each year.

This year, the global final will take place in Seattle on 25 July, with the first prize of $100,000, mentorship opportunities and Azure credits all to play for.

The winners will be awarded $100,000, a mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, a $120,000 Azure Grant and a trip to next year’s Build developer conference.

The Europeans are coming
Europe has long been a hotbed of computing talent. From “father of AI”, Alan Turing, to World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, Nikola Tesla, the Lumière brothers and more, leading figures from the region have contributed to some of history’s most thrilling technology innovations. Now it’s time for the next generation to step out of the shadows.

So, who’s competing from Europe? Let’s take a look at the 14 teams travelling to Seattle and the projects they’ll be hoping to wow the judges with.

Team TBC (Belarus)
This project uses a neural network to determine psychogeometric characteristics of a person from photographs, which allows more effective communication according to their individual characteristics, with a focus on business and sales settings. The use-case is to help companies hire the right students by sophisticated data-driven algorithms based on psychology, face/gestures-recognition and company culture assessment. The algorithms can also be used to help out the service industry to better communicate with customers based on psycho-type and emotion detection in real time.

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Theatrall (France)
Theatrall aims to make theaters accessible for everyone through simple software available on smartglasses, smartphones or tablets, which will display the production subtitles in the language chosen by the user. The goal is to make theatre experiences accessible for everyone, such as people with hearing impairments, non-native language speakers, or simply for those wishing for subtitles.

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Soul Sailor (Germany)
Soul Sailor is a platform that provides psychological care for refugees and asylum seekers, including a chatbot to help individuals process their experiences while seeking refuge. Soul Sailor supports refugees dealing with mental illnesses such as PTSD or depression by providing psychological care and eliminating factors out of their surroundings which contribute to their issues. The platform is powered by an AI and data-driven digital companion called Mayu, who interacts with the user via speech and helps them express their experiences and worries. In addition, the system also allows fled relatives who have been separated to communicate with a novel event-based network solution.

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NASC (Germany)
NASC is a web app that allows you to search for news articles on the web, attempts to evaluate sentiments in those articles and then visualizes the results. The goal is to encourage people interested in politics and other important topics and events to go beyond the first search result and to look at multiple articles that express different views about the same topic. To achieve this, NASC offers three different result views. The Map view helps portray geographical differences in the attitude towards a given issue. The Timeline view visualizes the development of the sentiment towards an issue over time, and the List view provides a familiar user interface similar to regular search engines and shows more details at first glance than the other, more specialized views.

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Pavo (Germany)
Pavo Vision makes digital content accessible to visually impaired users, by utilizing advanced AI, Cloud Computing and the power of the community. Visual content in websites, documents, and other digital assets gets analyzed and equipped with a description of the visual for visually impaired users by the Pavo Vision System. Mistakes in the analysis can be reported by the Pavo community to train the system, making the models smarter over time. The Pavo Vision system is currently available as a browser plugin, with future support for Microsoft Teams planned.

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StudySmarter (Germany)
StudySmarter is an intelligent learning platform, designed to help students achieve their educational goals and graduate from university. The platform digitizes the entire learning process, making it more efficient, structured and engaging. Machine learning algorithms accompany the student through the entire learning experience by automating or creating learning materials such as summaries, mind maps or flashcards with just a few clicks. In addition, the student is automatically connected with fellow students.StudySmarter not only saves time learning, but also boosts motivation.

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iCry2Talk (Greece)
iCry2Talk proposes a low-cost and non-invasive intelligent interface between infants and parents. Baby’s cries are translated in real-time, being associated with specific physiological and psychological states. Results are depicted in text, image and voice messages. iCry2Talk believes that the efficient combination and analysis of different sources of information through advanced signal processing techniques and deep learning algorithms can provide meaningful and reliable feedback to parents.

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Innobie (Hungary)
Innobie is a smartphone app to help students understand the curriculum they are reading in textbooks. The app projects a virtual augmented 3D image over 2D illustrations in books, and can help elementary students learn biology, chemistry, geography, history, and more. By allowing users to explore virtual objects from all angles, they can gain a deeper understanding for more complex subjects than a mere 2D image would be able to provide.

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DeafKIT (Moldova)
DeafKIT is an automatic solution for sign-language translation based on neural networks. Translations are provided with video capturing to make communication easier and more effective, with up to 100% accuracy. The solution aims to be used on trading centres, social networks and more.

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Wavy (Poland)
Wavy is an underwater locator for scuba divers which allows divers to track each other via a small device, which can prove to be vital during emergency situations. In addition to its safety benefits, the Diving Logbook feature tracks the route, depth and temperature of each dive. Diving bases can also measure the most popular routes to help recommend them to customers.

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VisionX (Romania)
XVision is a system designed to automatically detect anomalies and diseases encountered anywhere in the human body with radiologist-level accuracy, just by analyzing common medical X-ray images with the help of the latest Azure AI technologies such as Machine Learning. The system will provide a crucial solution for people in areas of the world that lack access to radiology diagnostics while also acting as an assistant tool for the medical experts examining radiographs.

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Coffee Break (Russia)
Coffee Break utilises spectrometry in an innovative way by labeling tradeable goods. this amazing tool in the business for labeling of tradable goods. The solution can be used in a variety of ways, such as counterfeit detection, by comparing goods to the known qualities of their genuine counterparts. The tool can also be used to track expensive items such as wine.

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InterviewBot (UK)
InterviewBot is a web-based application tailored to aid students with video or physical interviews when applying for jobs by providing real-time feedback on interview-style questions. Companies can also use this tool to assess their candidates’ performance, while a written transcript allowing employers to dissect interviews in detail. It uses facial analysis and speech recognition to offer real-time feedback on facial expressions during practice interviews, informing users whether their style is positive, neutral, or negative.

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Black Light (UK)
Black Light’s project, Firepoint, is a First-Person mixed reality simulator, built around helping firefighters explain and display what their daily work environment is like without putting anyone at risk. The simulator allows users to see through the eyes of a firefighter as they make their way through a multi-story training ground with a variety of different encounters to tackle. The goal is to use this tool to help firefighters in community outreach, recruitment, and training.

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It’s almost time! Imagine Cup 2018 Championship judges and special guest announced

Last October, I announced the 16th annual Imagine Cup competition, which gives college and university students the opportunity to test their intellectual, creative and teamwork skills while using technology to change the world. Forty-nine teams who have won their National Finals are now well underway in getting their solutions ready to compete at the World Finals, which will be held July 23-25 at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Last year, dozens of teams from nearly 40 countries were present at the World Finals, and this year is setting up to be just as exciting and diverse!

I love overseeing the Imagine Cup because it lets me interact with inspiring talent shaping the future and get to know incredible people along the way. Microsoft cares deeply about fostering careers in STEM, and I can’t think of a better way to give students the opportunity to take an idea from concept to completion, while also helping them acquire marketable skills they’ll be able to use throughout their careers. The work that comes out of Imagine Cup is innovative and life-changing — and often turns into full-fledged products!

Mug shot of Corey Sanders
Corey Sanders

This year’s Imagine Cup host is Corey Sanders, the corporate vice president for Azure Compute.

Corey’s no stranger to innovation — he holds four patents and was the creator of the Infrastructure-as-a-service offering for Azure.

Mug shot of Kate Yeager
Kate Yeager

And, last year’s emcee, Kate Yeager, is making a return appearance to call the action.

Judging the Imagine Cup is a big task, but this year’s judges are up for the challenge — all bringing a unique aspect of thought leadership to the table. The panel includes:

Mug shot of Peggy Johnson
Peggy Johnson

Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of business development at Microsoft, who started her career as an engineer and found her way into business development, merging her technical expertise and business savvy to become Microsoft’s “chief dealmaker.”

Mug shot of Anil Dash
Anil Dash

_ CEO of GlitchAnil Dash, who oversees the popular creative community for coders, and whose work as an entrepreneur, activist and writer reckons with the way technology transforms society, media and culture.

Erica Brescia
Erica Brescia

_ Co-founder and COO of Bitnami, Erica Brescia, an entrepreneur through-and-through with a “get it done” approach, she’s also an active investor via X Factor Ventures, funding amazing women founding extraordinary companies.

At the Imagine Cup Finals, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella will be in conversation with special guest Chloe Kim, the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding medal when she won the gold in the women’s snowboard halfpipe at age 17! Chloe is an outstanding example of a young person at the top of her game, much like the Imagine Cup participants are at the top of theirs.

Photo of Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim

Chloe Kim. Photo credit: Peter Morning

This year’s prize value of cash, travel and Azure credits totals more than $700,000, in addition to a mentoring session with Satya. Artificial intelligence, big data and mixed reality have special award prizes as well.

Want to see which team has the winning solution? You can watch the championship via live stream at at 9 a.m. PT, Wednesday, July 25.

I’m so excited to see what these remarkable students create this year. They are only bound by imagination, and as we’ve seen year after year, when given the opportunity to follow their imaginations, people can change the world.

P.S. Follow me on Twitter for updates on Imagine Cup and other news and noteworthy information in the cloud and ecosystem space.


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Save the date – July 25 – for the 2018 Imagine Cup World Finals

This July, Microsoft will host bright student developer teams from across the world for the 16th annual Imagine Cup. Teams will travel to Redmond, Washington to showcase their technical innovations and compete for up to $100,000 USD, as well as a mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. We are excited to announce the dates for the 2018 Imagine Cup World Finals!

Follow the action to learn more about the competing teams and tune in to see which teams will be announced as World Finalists!

July 23, 2018

The Imagine Cup World Finals kick-off at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington! The day starts with a Tech Showcase, where teams will pitch to multiple judges and the top-rated teams will move on to the next round. Imagine Cup Awards finalists in Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Mixed Reality are chosen to vie for $15,000 USD.

July 24, 2018

The top 15 teams are announced and will move forward as Imagine Cup semifinalists. There is good news for all other teams – they will get a second shot in the wildcard round! The students vote which wildcard teams will be saved and have the opportunity to join the semifinals. Semifinalists present their projects to the judges, and the final 3 teams are chosen to compete in the World Championships.

July 25, 2018

Imagine Cup World Championships – Streamed Live! Tune in at 9:00am PST to watch the top 3 teams pitch to the judges, coming to you live from the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Seattle. Who will win it all?

Save the date for the Imagine Cup World Finals to see who will win $100,000 and the glory of being the Imagine Cup champions!