Airwaves technology software a winner for Auckland students

It took a team of local university students five months to develop software to send educational data to the most remote areas globally via radio waves and to win the national 2010 Microsoft Imagine Cup.

Team OneBeep from the University of Auckland, took the national title following a 15-minute presentation from four finalist teams before a seven-judge panel on Friday evening at the University of Auckland business school.

Now in its eighth year, the Microsoft Imagine Cup is the world’s largest technology competition, challenging students from around the globe to develop technologies to help solve the world’s toughest problems.

The team of four, including Chanyeol Yoo, Vinny Kumar, Kayo Lakadia and Steve Ward, saw the perfect niche market to tackle one of the world’s biggest problems – illiteracy – with the One Laptop Per Child programme and its 1.4 million laptops already deployed around the world.

Vinny Kumar, OneBeep’s team leader, told the National Business Review the novel concept had a “huge potential”, as further 30 million laptops are scheduled to enter the global market in the next five years.

Mr Kumar said the niche was unexplored because major IT companies were profit-driven and not interested in simply helping to tackle the world’s toughest problems.

OneBeep has developed an inexpensive and robust method to send educational content to the One Laptop Per Child programme’s laptops deployed in areas of the world that have no Internet services, or phone lines.

The solution involves using OneBeep's software to package a file of educational data as audio, which is sent via radio waves. This can be received on any AM/FM radio, which transmits it on to the laptop. The file is then converted back to its original form once it has been received on the children's laptops ready to be viewed.

“Throughout the competition we’ve seen many great ideas, but Team OneBeep’s stood out as the best of the best,” said Scott Wylie, Microsoft New Zealand developer and platform group director.

“Their project was the most well-developed, reasoned and emblematic of our theme, based on the UN millennium development goals: to solve the world’s toughest problems with technology.”

Since the competition began in December 2009 more than 100 local teams entered, which were whittled to the top 20, and after working feverishly over the summer break, the preliminary finalists were reduced to the final four in February, with OneBeep now named the overall winner.

The other top three finishing teams – listed in order - were:

Team Enpeda from the University of Auckland, was the second runner up. It aims to save lives and make roads safer. They have devised a working prototype of mobile phone-controlled driver assistance system, using a mobile phone camera to watch the road environment ahead and warn drivers if they stray off course and into danger. Cars of all ages can be cheaply retrofitted with the system.

Team eUtopia from the University of Waikato came up with a live video distribution service that links conservation organisations to the public and allows for remote monitoring, private research and even surveillance of animals.

Team Vital Link from the University of Auckland, aims to tackle the issue of poverty, in particular, fair trade for artisans in impoverished countries whose handicrafts are often undervalued. The team is eager to provide a global marketplace by capitalising on the viral marketing capabilities of Facebook to help these people make enough money to improve their daily lives.

The winners will attend the July worldwide finals in Warsaw, Poland. 

OneBeep’s Mr Kumar said his team had “pretty good chances” winning the world Imagine cup.

“We’ve been tracking other competitors’ progress as well. We’ve seen their video presentations on YouTube and their presentations weren’t up to our level. We put a lot of work into our presentation. We’ll do New Zealand proud.”

Globally, more than 300,000 students from 142 countries have taken part in the Imagine Cup to date.