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Students Compete to Find Tech Solutions for World Problems

A South Korean passenger looks at a TV report on North Korea's rocket launch at Seoul railway station, April 13, 2012. (Reuters)

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Hundreds of international students met in New York City last week for the Microsoft Imagine Cup finals. They presented their ideas for using technology to solve world problems.

Microsoft Education Director, Suzi Levine, says the program is nine years old. It began mainly as a competition to create technology.

“When we realized that students really actually want to have a purpose for what they’re creating, we introduced the idea of inspiring them with the UN Millennium Development Goals, and suggesting that they use those for their muse.”

This year, ideas also came from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations.

“This past year, we also rolled out something called the Imagine Cup Solve This library, where IGO’s, NGO’s, and nonprofits can submit some of the technical challenges that they would like students to consider for their solutions.”

Over 350,000 high school and college students entered this year’s competition. Judges chose more than 400 to go to the finals.

Ms. Levine says that several teams were inspired by current events, including floods last year in Thailand.

“One from Thailand (was) called NewKrean, where they created a Windows Phone 7 application that allows you to broadcast your location to your social network of friends so that you can be more easily rescued.”

The NewKrean team from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand named their app “Terra”.

Suzi Levine says there were also ideas from Egypt. They were inspired by the revolution that forced out President Hosni Mubarak in February.

“One was to use Bluetooth as sort of a Twitter equivalent so that if the government shuts down the Internet, you actually can still have a massive social distribution.”

Students competed in nine areas. In software design, the top prize of $25,000 went to Team Hermes from Ireland. The students made equipment for cars to get information on driving conditions and traffic problems.

A team from Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University won first place. They created wireless equipment to help find the safest escape routes during a fire.

Next year, the awards ceremony will be in Australia. Registration for Imagine Cup 2012 opened on Friday. Microsoft is planning a $3 million program to help Imagine Cup winners continue to develop their projects.