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South Africa: Imagine Cup springs into high gear

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A unified communications tool that allows employees to collaborate and share work more effectively plus two entertaining space-based puzzle games were the big winners at this year’s local finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, which was held last week in partnership with the CSIR Meraka Institute and the Department of Science and Technology in Pretoria.

Team South Africa, who competed in 2013's competition (image: Charlie Fripp)
Team South Africa, who competed in 2013’s competition (image: Charlie Fripp)

The top three teams who will go on to represent South Africa at the regional online finals were chosen, with each of these getting high praise from the judges not only because they delivered polished products, but also because of the research and marking plans they provided to support their applications following their debuts within real-world app markets.

In third place was Em Squared from the University of Pretoria, whose project is a space puzzle game called Tilt. This title makes use of advanced mobile device features such as the gyroscope and accelerometer to capitalise on an easy-to-use and entertaining game mechanism – that of motion-based mobile gaming. This means that gamers would have to use more than just their thinking caps and fingers to solve puzzles. Each team member received R2 500 cash plus a Nokia Lumia 625 smartphone.

Fo(u)r Slaves from the University of Cape Town claimed the runner up position for their project entitled me@OpenBox, a solution that incorporates a unified communications platform to allow employees to communicate and collaborate with one another using a virtual ‘bulletin board’ that is secured as well as tailored to each employee, ensuring the privacy of messaging.

In addition, this application further incorporates a highly effective employee analysis tool, which is designed to enable managers to proactively manage their human assets. This tool ensures that employees are working optimally, which helps increase worker retention rates in the long run according to Team Fo(u)r Slaves. Each team member received R3 500 as well as a Nokia Lumia 1320 phablet.

Super Sea Dragons, also from the University of Pretoria, managed to land the top place on the finalist podium. This team soared to top spot because of their project – Orbit – which is a 2D action-adventure planet platformer. In this title, gameplay is focused on the exploration and navigation of small planets, as well as collecting weapons and upgrades to fight for one’s survival. Players assume the role of Atlas the astronaut, Earth’s last hope for finding a new habitat to survive in.

The team comprises of Daniel Esterhuizen, Gerhard Janse van Rensberg, Eleanor Harding and Emile Hay, who are all enrolled at the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria. Each team member was awarded with R5 000 cash as well as a Nokia Lumia 1520 flagship smartphone.

Empowering local innovation

Now in its 12th year, the Imagine Cup – a Microsoft YouthSpark programme – challenges the world’s best student programmers to develop solutions to real-world problems being experienced within their respective communities.

More than 1.65 million students across the globe have participated in Imagine Cup over the past decade. Locally, this year’s Imagine Cup drew 56 entries from universities across the country. In December 2013, 12 teams were shortlisted to present their solutions at the local finals.

“Imagine Cup is more than just a contest under the YouthSpark and 4Afrika banners. It is a way for students to benefit from training and opportunities that kick-start incredible careers, and turn them into local intellectual property developers. Through the Boot Camp and Imagine Camp offerings, students receive unparalleled hands-on experience, guidance and mentorship from industry luminaries, opening doors to a future as entrepreneurs, innovators and technologists. More than that, it turns them into employment creators,” says head of Microsoft South Africa’s developer and platform team, Clifford de Wit.

This year’s event saw entries across three categories: Gaming, Innovation and World Citizenship.

“These students all share one goal, which is the use of technology to address a problem that exists within their communities and countries. The various teams endeavour to make the world a better place and, in so doing, are presented with an opportunity to compete for generous cash prizes, including the opportunity to meet Bill Gates and receive guidance to help them start their own small business,” explains De Wit.

Imagine Cup sponsor CSIR Meraka Institute’s Senior Technologist Michael Ofori-Appiah says: “The calibre of entries that we received this year was simply amazing, making it extremely difficult to choose our top three teams. All of the entrants were winners in their own right. However, we feel that we have selected the best teams to go on to represent their country and fly the South African flag high at the world finals in Seattle.”

For Imagine Cup 2014, Microsoft is striving to go the extra mile in inspiring tomorrow’s leaders. This year sees the company provide one Imagine Cup World Finalist team with the chance to meet privately with Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The team chosen will get the chance to share their aspirations and excitement for a brighter future with this world renowned entrepreneur, innovator, and humanitarian.

Marinda Huisamen and Mitch Dart from Em Squared loved seeing their hard work and dedication get recognised and appreciated by the judges. “Microsoft has provided us with a great opportunity to explore our imagination, we appreciate their support and interest in the up-and-coming youth of the technological future. Overall, this was an amazing experience for us, and helped us unleash and recognise our capabilities.”

The Imagine Cup World Finals event will be held between 29 July and 2 August 2014 in Seattle, with the cash prize for the top team within each category – Games, Innovation, and World Citizenship – being awarded $50,000.

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