The tension is palpable in the room as students anxiously await their turn to present their idea to the jury. Huddled in groups, you can see them practicing their lines one final time before they head to the stage. On stake – the chance to win the India leg of Imagine Cup 2018 and to represent India in the global finals.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of computer science students from across the world sign up for the Microsoft Imagine Cup to showcase their innovative ideas. From high-tech wearable devices diagnosing patients in real-time to drones that shorten response times to natural disasters, the annual competition has surfaced some of the most ground-breaking ideas from the brightest minds of the next generation.
This year, over 10,000 Indian students from more than 50 institutions participated in the India leg of the competition this year. Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions dominated the stage with over 60 percent of the solutions powered by AI. A team of Microsoft evangelists and student partners have toiled over several months hosting camps and events at college campuses to ensure students have everything they need to build their solutions.
“Over the past seven months we have been working with students on ideation and the use of technology, especially AI, to power their projects,” says Annie Matthew, Senior Director – Evangelism, Commercial Software Engineering, Microsoft India.
A combination of cutting-edge AI and a focus on solving real world problems for a wider impact helped the three winning teams – RealVol from IIIT Delhi, DrugSafe from R.V. College of Engineering, Bengaluru, and Practikality from Amity International School, Delhi – stand out.
RealVol: Enabling medical diagnoses in Virtual Reality
Twenty-two-year-old Palash Rajan Bansal came up with a solution that can convert a CT scan or MRI scan into a 3D model that doctors can see in Virtual Reality (VR) and diagnose patients better and faster. Bansal starting coding when he entered his teens. An avid gamer, he was enthralled by the potential of VR.
“Virtual Reality (VR) had captured my imagination since my teenage years and I’ve been coding games and VR experiences ever since,” the IIIT Delhi student says.
RealVol generates 3D VR visualizations from medical images. The app uses real-time volume rendering to create virtual replicas of CT/MRI scan images, allowing medical professionals to view this critical data from a new perspective. Bansal believes the real-time 3D VR visualizations offer more details through color, depth, and interactivity, allowing doctors to diagnose patients better and faster. The app splices 2D images into 3D objects in real-time, which can be viewed on most commercial VR platforms. Doctors can use VR controllers to shift and interact with every 3D model.
DrugSafe: Using AI to detect fake medicines
Personal experiences inspired some teams to think about using technology to solve real world problems. Team DrugSafe uncovered the issue of counterfeit medicines when one of their friends showed no signs of recovery after weeks of taking the prescribed medication.
“It was surprising that there was no improvement in symptoms even after completing the course of medication,” says Chidroop I, one of the three students from R.V. College of Engineering, Bengaluru behind DrugSafe.
“According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, nearly 40 percent of all medicines sold in India are counterfeit. Learning that nearly half of all medicines sold in India were fake was really shocking and disturbing for us,” add Pratik Mohapatra and Srihari HS.
Alarmed by the risks, the team decided to address the challenge through an app that could authenticate medicines and trace them back to their source.
DrugSafe uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to identify minute details in the design and packaging of medicines and compare them to the original manufacturer’s patented and trademarked attributes. After three levels of checks, any discrepancies between the scanned image and the database are flagged to help users identify medicines as counterfeit. Machine learning and AI-aided statistical analysis also help identify a potential epidemic outbreak in a region.
“We’ve kept the User Interface (UI) really simple and developed the app to work across platforms so that everyone can benefit from this regardless of age or technical skill,” Mohapatra says. “We follow the principle of Authorization-Authentication-Accessibility to help establish users’ trust and protect their data. We believe this is crucial so that our work can have the widest possible impact.”
This was the team’s second attempt at Imagine Cup. The team worked together in 2017 on an anonymous emergency response system but couldn’t qualify for the finals.
Practikality: AI-assisted communication for people with disabilities
Practikality was similarly inspired by a personal experience. High school friends Padam Chopra, Aryaman Agrawal, and Keshav Maheshwari were committed to create an app that converts text to speech. The idea came to them when Chopra’s grandfather was diagnosed with a speech disability.
He was keen on using technology to help people with age-related disabilities like his grandfather and others lead a normal life. In 2015, a visit to a local blind school encouraged the team further to work on a solution for the visually impaired. All of this led to the creation of their app, Practikality, which has Voice (text to speech), Easi (speech to text or sign language) and Vision (face detection) features.
“The Imagine Cup has given us a great platform to interact with technology experts and leaders, to exchange ideas and gain practical insights. With the mentoring support, we feel much more confident about our solution,” says Chopra.
“Eventually, we plan to take our solution to market and help as many people as possible,” adds Agrawal. “The Imagine Cup platform has been a really helpful first step towards that goal. The entire process has been a great learning experience and we recommend it to anyone who is looking for a global platform to launch their ideas,” adds Maheshwari.
Teams head to Seattle for the finals
The core objective of the Imagine Cup it to empower the next generation of computer science students to team up and use their creativity, passion, and knowledge of technology to create applications that shape how we live, work and play.
“At Microsoft, we have been working with the student community to be a part of the ecosystem and spot bright, innovative ideas early and nurture them to fruition. By providing mentorship, feedback, capital and resources to young minds, the platform ties into Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more,” says Aparna Gupta, General Manager (India), Commercial Software Engineering, Microsoft.
“It’s amazing to see the culmination of innovative ideas and extreme hard work by these students from across the country,” says Anant Maheshwari, President Microsoft India. “They’re trying to solve problems of today with cutting-edge technology. More than anything else, this gives us hope and a lot of excitement for what is to come. These young minds are really breaking barriers and I’m excited that Microsoft is supporting that process.”
This year students also stand a chance to win three special awards, worth $15,000 each, for innovative and world-changing ideas in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Mixed Reality.
“I want to use Imagine Cup to make a real difference. The entire process has been a great learning experience,” says RealVol’s Bansal.
These three teams are among the 49 teams from across the globe that will participate in the World Finals, which will be held July 23-25 at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington. They will present their projects to the jury that comprises Peggy Johnson, Executive Vice President, Business Development at Microsoft; Anil Dash, CEO of Glitch; and Erica Brescia, Co-founder and COO, Bitnami.
Want to see which team has the winning solution? You can watch the championship via live stream at ImagineCup.com at 9:30 p.m. IST on Wednesday, July 25.