Earlier this week I decided to skip the usual lunch routine to check out the innovative ideas of some of the nation's brightest students who are looking to change the world at the U.S. finals of the 2011 Imagine Cup which took place this year on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.

 

Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research listens to a pitch from Drexel's smart and energetic Zack Howitt.

Microsoft established the Imagine Cup competition nine years ago with the belief that students can and will change the world. The Imagine Cup begins with local, regional, and online contests in over 100 countries and regions with the finalists going on to attend the worldwide finals.  The competition challenges students to use technology to address the United Nationals Millennium Development Goals.

I wasn't the only person who made the decision to examine the next generation of technology leaders; amongst the gigantic crowd, house music, and digital display frenzy, I saw many familiar faces from the Microsoft digital world such as Alfred Thompson, Scott Lum, and Matt Bernardy. Those in attendance listened to pitches from 22 different teams focusing on a number of areas from software development to game design. The teams tackled a range of global issues with incredible ingenuity such as disease diagnosis through mobile devices, supply chain management and the deployment of resources during disaster response, fighting pollution, alternative energy solutions and more.

Jason Wakizaka (pictured above) of the LifeLense teamkindly took some time to talk to us about their application for Windows Phone 7 that can diagnose malaria and track cases using bing maps.

 

The LifeLens idea took second place award at the US Imagine Cup Finals, so a big congratulations to Jason and the team!!

Team Note-Taker  (pictured below) from Arizona State University won the Software Design competition and will represent the U.S. at the Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide Finals in New York City this summer. The team, made up of Michael Astrauskas, David Hayden, Shashank Srinivas and Qian Yan, designed an assistive technology to help vision-impaired students take notes in class. In victory, Hayden remarked, "Technology empowers the individual to make the world accessible according to their own needs. Our work demonstrates this by equipping low-vision students with a portable assistive technology that enables them to take their own notes - a process that is well known to benefit retention."

At the awards ceremony, principal researcher from Microsoft Research, Bill Buxton, shared a number of ingenious insights with the students and his closing comments reiterated what I had been thinking all day: "You students have taken far more steps to change the world through innovation, than I had at your age."

Team Note-Taker - Finalists Announcement

You can find details on all of the winners and see who will represent the United States in New York this summer, on the Imagine Cup Blog: Microsoft Names U.S. Imagine Cup Winners.