everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

Imagine Cup 2012: Over and out

Students always love a blackboard. [EverydaySparks]

OK, promise this will be my last post wrapping up Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2012. I think. There is still so much I want to share from the amazing experience, but I’m a bit worried that it’ll be like one of those times when someone tells you about that dream they had last night. You know, when they’re really into it, so they go into crazy detail about every little aspect and you’re left nodding and smiling and wishing they would just SHUT UP AND LET IT GO. Because it’s never as good in the re-telling. But I’ll do my best with these last few people-highlights of the Imagine Cup worldwide finals.

Maxim (and the drone hovering behind) in full flight. [EverydaySparks]

First, to the Etzoockee team from Kazakhstan. Maxim Kulesh appeared to be their team spokesman and he was quite the salesman – captivating the crowd with his enthusiastic explanation of the team’s software design project, Archangel. According to their Imagine Cup profile, their project is, quite simply, “for changing the world and saving human lives”. Right on, boys in blue from Kazakhstan. How, you ask? With drones. Well, drones that are controlled remotely using a desktop application, to be more precise. Basically, these unmanned flexible and mobile drones can be directed to emergency situations to (a) drop medical or other urgent supplies and (b) record live footage of the crisis with an in-built camera, enabling emergency services personnel to better prepare for the disaster that awaits them. With advance warning of the state of play, the experts will be able to determine how best to access the sites, treat the victims and manage the situation. Very clever. Although, I think Maxim could have sold any idea to the crowd gathered around him – that kid is going places.

Guilherme Savio, a Doer. [EverydaySparks]

And then The Doers from Brazil – in their bright yellow hard hats to show that their project was all about teaching kids to build better cities with their game design Do More. Their message is about people joining together to do more to solve the world’s problems. Their game is a fun way to look at problems facing developing communities – players have to work out how to manage waste, construction and growing populations as they advance through the levels and build bigger cities. Once they have developed their cities, the game looks at issues such as gender equality at work and other problems facing more established communities. Yep, tackling all of these big issues in a game. It really gets you thinking and I can see how kids would be attracted to the graphics and challenge to progress through the levels, while at the same time having to consider real world issues that come with progress and development. The Doers seemed like a lot of fun and when we asked how long they had been working on their project, the answer was many months – but with a break to enjoy their summer holiday. Hats off to the lovely Guilherme Savio and the team for their work/life balance – and they came 2nd in the world in the game design for Windows/Xbox category!

A fruit ninja with his Xight eyes. [EverydaySparks]

Finally, to the Xight team from China – a great idea and a really dedicated team member who sat in the booth playing a bzillion games of Fruit Ninja WITH HIS EYES. Uh huh. You see (pun intended), Xight is an ‘eye tracking system’, which uses the captured images of human eyes to calculate the direction of users’ gazes. This technology can enable people with upper limb paralysis to control computers on their own. So clever and again, such a practical and genuinely useful application of technology.

For more info, you can check out Imagine Cup website here.

Over and out.

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Imagine Cup 2012: Pillows and Peanuts

If you read my blog yesterday, you’ll know that I was lucky enough to attend the last day of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2012 worldwide finals on Tuesday here in Sydney. And because I’m not ready to forget about it yet – and since everyone I speak to about it seems keen to hear more – I’ve picked two amazing teams to tell you about today. I know I can be a bit superficial, and both of these teams do have very cool names, but I assure you that their appeal is deeper than that – here are two brilliant ideas from Jordan and Korea.

Imagine Cup 2012: Dancing Pillows from Jordan. [EverydaySparks]

When I walked past the Jordanian team’s booth and saw some pillows tossed on to an inflatable matress, I was confused. A dancing pillow? In a software design competition? But the team was made up of three good looking Jordanian chaps (with dimples), so I thought it was only fair to hear them out. Abdallah S pointed out that conventional home alarm systems (those used to detect burglars and fires, or even baby monitors or door bells) aren’t much use to deaf people. So the Dancing Pillowwas developed as an ‘electronic alerting device’ containing three sensors to detect smoke, motion and sound. When a sensor is activated, it sends a signal to the Dancing Pillow app on your Windows Phone and activates your chosen stimulus: flashing lights, the release of a perfume through one of those air freshener type things, or a vibrating device placed in your pillowcase (that’s the ‘dancing pillow’ function). When you’re not on your pillow, you can carry the small device in your pocket with the same functionality, alerting you to any issues in your home. Seems like such a simple idea, but it’s a goodie!

[Now that the competition is over, I think it’s safe to share my proposed add-on to capture an untapped market: I’m thinking of mothers everywhere when I suggest a blast from a fire hose, accompanied by the delicate aroma of frying chips, to rouse teenage boys from their deep slumber…]

Hapeanuts from Korea’s team TokTok. [EverydaySparks]

Team TokTok from Korea won the crowd over with their marketing pitch – within seconds, I had been attacked by a giant peanut (at least, they said he was a peanut – check out the photo and see why I was at first reluctant to pose for a pic), given badges, bags of peanuts and a Korean flag. Following the ol’ principle of brand awareness first, actual product detail later, it wasn’t until I’d stowed away my goodies that I got to learn more about their idea. In a nutshell (sorry), Hapeanut is an app designed to help people grow peanuts – a ‘relief food’ that will help to support people around the world suffering from malnutrition and starvation. Participants in the Hapeanut virtual community are encouraged to keep a ‘peanut diary’ and they’ll receive tips and guidance on peanut cultivation as they progress. The team plans to help users grow peanuts and actually donate them to the people in need, providing ways for users to donate their peanuts to social welfare companies and NGOs.

Ah yes, the Hapeanut mascot. [EverydaySparks]

Now, a confession. I was sucked in by Team TokTok’s clever gimmicks and when I got to the substance of their idea, I thought it was a little bit too wacky to be true. But then I did some research into the humble peanut and found out many amazing things that I never knew: it’s actually A LEGUME, not a nut, for starters. Oh yeah, and peanuts provide over 30 essential nutrients and phytonutrients. And they’re a good source of niacin, folate, fibre, magnesium, vitamin E, manganese and phosphorus. Uh huh. Naturally free of trans fats and sodium, they contain about 25% protein. And all that peanut-talk is from Wikipedia, so it must be true. So, Hapeanut is a great combo of making it fun to cultivate a valuable food source – and if they can realise their dream of actually supplying peanuts to the areas in greatest need of assistance, this team will definitely live up to its own hype!

Congratulations to these two teams for their fantastic ideas. I mentioned it yesterday, but I’ll say it again – I have run out of adjectives to describe the awesome-ness of this Imagine Cup competition and its competitors. Geeks are indeed good.

You can check out Hapeanut on Facebook here and the Dancing Pillow team are on Facebook here. You can read more about the incredible Imagine Cup here. And if this post has sparked your interest in peanuts – you’re not alone – all the info you could want is here.

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The Imagine Cup (runneth over with amazing ideas)

Last week, EverydaySparks received an invitation to attend the worldwide finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2012, here in Sydney. I must confess that I’d never heard of the Imagine Cup before this, but the very name appealed to my fondness for both competition and creative geekery. I was hooked. Turns out, the Imagine Cup is A REALLY BIG DEAL. This year saw its 10th anniversary as the world’s premier student technology competition, aimed at finding solutions to real-world problems. Uh huh.

Sydney flies the flag(s) for Imagine Cup 2012. [pic by EverydaySparks]

A truly global competition – since 2003, more than 1.4 million students have participated in the Cup. And it’s HUGE – last year, 358,000 students represented 183 countries in the competition. Just think of all of that brain power focussed on the key theme: Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems. And yesterday, as I spent the whole afternoon wandering around the last day of the Imagine Cup worldwide finals as a guest of Microsoft, I got a glimpse of that world. And let me tell you friends, it is freakin’ amazing.

French team ‘Ecosia’ chillaxing with a game of giant chess. [pic by EverydaySparks]

At the Imagine Cup, they’re University students – with a difference. They have all had to compete in intense knockout competitions in their home countries before making it to the worldwide finals. Not for them the student traditions of waking up after midday, trying to scrape together enough coins for the beer & pizza special at the local pub, and frittering away countless hours staring at the cracks on the share-house wall. Or maybe they do get to do all those things, it’s just that with the rest of their time (in addition to studying to pass the killer exams for their demanding technology courses), these kids do other stuff. You know, like DEVELOP A MOBILE APP THAT TURNS YOUR SMARTPHONE INTO A DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVES DETECTOR (way to go, Poland’s team ‘Armed’). Or, a fun game on your phone that teaches you all about RECYCLING AND ATMOSPHERIC POLLUTION (nice work, France’s team ‘Ecosia’). Then there’s the Australian team ‘StethoCloud’, with the clear goal of REDUCING CHILD MORTALITY FROM PNEUMONIA.

Were they expecting me? [pic by EverydaySparks]

I mean, seriously. Did you ever know of any students who thought about such things, let alone students who dedicated months and years of their lives to developing technology to address these world problems? I am in awe and left feeling a little guilty about spending my early 20s worried about utter nonsense. Instead of Alzheimers Disease, clean water, blindness and dyslexia, to name just a few of the Imagine Cup projects.

I’m going to save the detail of some of my favourite teams for other posts, but wanted to share the overall experience with you today – I’m still buzzing after an incredible day celebrating some amazing geeks of the world. And, not only are they super bright with brilliant, innovative ideas, but they are all required to present their projects to the tough panel of judges, running live demos and answering serious technical questions. IN ENGLISH. Which for the vast majority of the contestants is their second (or third or fourth) language. Unbelievable.

Matthew Doyle opens the Award Ceremony. [pic by EverydaySparks]

We were invited to the Award Ceremony, where the atmosphere was electric. Better than a concert, there were flags and inflatables and crazy chants as the students enjoyed the last hours of their magical Imagine Cup experience. As the backdrop to the stage changed from the Sydney cityscape to an outback sunset, a lone didgeridoo and the fabulous Bangarra Dance company gave the crowd an unforgettable traditional Australian experience. And then there were inspirational speeches (including Jessica Watson, round-the-world sailor and another amazing young person), awards, tears, hugs and lots of laughs. I tell you – if these kids are responsible for the future of our planet, I’ve never felt safer.

You can read all about Microsoft’s Imagine Cup here. And I’ll be posting more about some of the sparks I saw there in the coming days.

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That’s miPhone

With the number of people sporting iPhones these days, it can be tough to know which is yours. If, say, you are in the habit of turning your phone upside down and putting it right next to someone else’s. And the standard black or white colour scheme can feel somewhat limiting to people like you and me, who kinda like to stand out of the crowd, march to the beat of a different drum, or fly in the face of convention. Or maybe it’s not even that deep, maybe it’s just nice to personalise your phone as you would any other accessory that you’ve chosen to fit your style/mood/look. I’m not an iPsych, so I’m not digging any deeper – but here are some of the more intriguing iPhone covers that I have discovered…

For fans of Tiffany & Co, Audrey Hepburn, New York City, presents, or ribbons – this would surely be the cover for you. Although you would probably have to watch out for people who like to steal expensive trinkets. And people who like to untie ribbons. And those girls who have always wanted something from Tiffany & Co – you don’t want your phone to be their something. That would be disappointing for both parties, really.

Or for geeks with a slightly evil sense of humour, who want to giggle every time that a non-geek panics that they’ve splashed water and ruined the geek’s exposed iPhone circuitry. LOL.

The warning in the product blurb makes me think that someone has bought this next cover to recreate their childhood farming memories of ol’ Bessy, and been sadly crushed by reality. Peeps, “this is a photo of a cow hide – not a real hide.” Although I’m sure if it’s real cow hide that you’re after, there’s a phone cover shop somewhere that caters for your taste.

And in case your thing is vases shaped like vintage shoes and stockings, filled with roses and strapped in to old-fashioned roller skates. Here you go, champ.

If you’re a romantic, you might like this cover. But I think it’s worth remembering that this message goes out to everyone who sees your phone. So, you might want to think about that. Not just to your beloved, or family and friends, but to the smelly guy on the bus, the annoying lady at work, and the cranky neighbour. Tho’ it is nice to spread a message of love – like a random act of kindness that you’re throwing out to the world. And, if your phone gets stolen, who knows but the thief may turn it over, see this cover and think about giving it back to its lovely owner. Or at least think about getting a new cover for their hot phone.

And last, but by no means least (unless you’re a vegetarian), here is the “Juicy Steak Design”. Unlike that cowhide cover, there is no warning here saying, this is a photo of a steak – not a real steak. So I do hope there are not people trying to order the cover ‘medium rare’ or ‘well done’. For me, this cover goes with many others into the BUT, WHY? file – though perhaps it makes more sense if you’re a steak lover. In which case, you can snap it up for less than $20!

So many covers to choose from to pick just the right hat for your phone. If none of these have spoken to you, there are plenty more to check out at the Wallsparks shop. Like, brain scan images (uh huh), old school typewriters, flags, donuts, robots, light switches, animals and pretty much anything you can imagine. The etsy shop is here if you’d like to have a look.

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Kickstarting ideas

You might have already heard of Kickstarter, which is basically a website / online community that offers start-ups the opportunity to pitch their project to the world and get donations from ‘backers’. Or as they say (in a much clearer way): it’s the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. They have arranged all of the pitches into different categories and, although most of the projects are from the USA, there are some from other parts of the world too. It’s interesting to have a look at the range of ideas – some very clever, some very weird and some very dodgy.

I found this one in the ‘game’ section: Unemployment Quest! (With an exclamation mark to show you that it’s FUN!) With 14 days still to go, it is 503% funded (that’s over $5,000 when the developer only asked for $1,000) and has attracted donations from nearly 500 backers. If you donate at least $5, you get a copy of the game (with other treats added if you donate more cash).

The game was developed in New York by this chap named Charles. Apparently, Unemployment Quest is a game about the experience of unemployed youth. Now, I’m no geeky gamer, but that doesn’t sound like much fun to me. The graphics look pretty basic and Charles says the game’s story is minimalistic. And it seems that the music has been recorded to sound like those annoying soundtracks to early computer games. So why would anyone want to play this game, Charles?

Instead of fighting typical fantasy monsters, your foes will include “Doubts,” “Isolation,” “Shame,” and the main villain “Uncertain Future.” The aim of the game is to turn the negative experience of joblessness into something less terrible, while still having fun gameplay that will not bog down players by requiring gigantic time investments.

Because presumably you should be spending that time, well, you know, applying for jobs. Or doing something a bit more productive than playing this game. But far be it from me to know what the market wants – perhaps there are bzillions of people just waiting to experience virtual unemployment. Even if they are experiencing real world unemployment at the same time, as per Charles’ target market.

Whatevs, gamers, if you want to check out this project and maybe help Charles make his dream come true, you can find Unemployment Quest here. Or you can just have a look at some of the other ideas on Kickstarter here. And as a person with many, many kooky ideas, I really should get started on some Kickstarter pitches myself – there seem to be some generous people out there!

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Say cheese!

If, like me, you’ve ever looked at Maxwell Smart or James Bond or Inspector Gadget and envied their clever spy toys. Or if, like me, you’ve ever suspected that someone is actually stealing the choc chip cookies from that jar at work. Or if, like me, you’ve ever wanted to expose a fraudulent worker’s compensation claim. (Actually, that last one may just be me?) Anyways, if those, then this: The High Definition Video Pen. Tucked into your jacket pocket or left lying on the desk or bench, this clever device looks just like a run-of-the-mill stationery item. But prepare to be dazzled: the ball-point pen actually has an in-built video camera, “capturing HD videos or still images with a click of its button.”

Whatever kind of creeping you’re planning, this trusty “pen” captures up to five hours of video. In colour. With sound. Uh huh. And, according to the experts, the lens and microphone are “inconspicuous enough to avoid detection”. Unless of course there is some malfunction and your pen starts beeping or flashing – in which case, ABANDON THE MISSION. I REPEAT, ABANDON THE MISSION. Be aware that the battery life is two hours, so you’ll need to recharge for your tougher investigations. And of course, you may also want to flick through the relevant privacy legislation for your jurisdiction. EverydaySparks just puts these ideas out there – I take no responsibility for where your “pen” leads you…

Or maybe you’re a jaded gumshoe and think the “pen” is nothing to (ahem) write home about? Then I challenge you not to be amazed by this: The World’s Smallest Camera. Measuring just over one inch in all dimensions, this camera is apparently “reminiscent of devices employed by Cold War-era operatives for intelligence gathering”. Uh huh. With the click of a button, the auto focus provides you with a great shot on your teeny tiny camera. Priced at under $40, this wee camera will make a great (if slightly creepy) addition to your collection. Collection of what? I don’t want to know.

If you would like to find out more about these magical recording devices, you might like to have a look at Hammacher Schlemmer.

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