App to Help the Blind Wins Microsoft Imagine Cup

From a field of 400 entries, Team Mobile Eye has claimed the top prize at this year's Microsoft Imagine Cup.

Mobile Eye, and the 16 other finalists this year, were still showcasing their products and being judged right up until the winners were announced last night at the Auckland Town Hall.

Aakash Porla, team captain of Mobile Eye, says it has been a tense last few weeks, but well worth the wait.

"We are so excited about winning here tonight. It proves our idea is solid and all the hard work we have put in has paid off," says Porla.

The Imagine Cup sees teams of tertiary school students submit ideas to solve global problems using technology.

The Mobile Eye team submitted a phone application which blind people can use to take pictures of their surroundings and have it described to them in audio.

The images are relayed through Mobile Eye's servers (which for the Imagine Cup are Azure-based), then sent to the user's Facebook or Skype to be described by the user's family or support group. Users can also choose to send it to a third-party company instead.

Aakash Porla, team captain of Mobile Eye, told Computerworld they initially planned on using artificial intelligence to discern objects in the images, but settled on a crowdsourced system because it leads to more situationally aware results.

"Artificial intelligence is good for telling you what's there and what's not, but right now only people can give you the context," says Porla.

Eventually the system can be used to not only help the blind, but can help travellers translate text and images by routing them to native language speakers to translate.

Mobile Eye says they are still working on a business model for the service, but hopes to subsidise its use by the blind community by charging for the translation service.

The win last night means Mobile Eye will have the opportunity to represent New Zealand in the Worldwide Finals in Sydney, later this year.

The other top three finishing teams were:

Second Place -- Team Thought-Wired from the University of Auckland with their solution NOUS which empowers individuals with severe physical disabilities to communicate and interact.

Third Place -- Team Aura from the University of Auckland with their modular solution that detects abnormal breathing patterns and could revolutionise the diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Fourth Place -- Team Connect from the University of Auckland with a communication system that responds immediately following a disaster, keeping you connected to loved ones.

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