Microsoft announced the winners in its embeddedSPARK 2011 challenge, which asked contestants to come up with interesting Windows Embedded Compact 7 devices. The $15,000 first-prize winner is a flying camera designed to locate disaster victims; the $5,000 second prize goes to a touchscreen meal planner with a Windows Phone 7-style user interface; and the $1,000 third prize is awarded to a electronic bulletin board whose contents can be manipulated over the Internet


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Microsoft’s embeddedSPARK 2011 Challenge is the latest version of a content that was originally called Sparks Will Fly, aimed at academics, developers, and hobbyists. (The latter event was, in turn, inspired by the Embedded Development category of the company’s Imagine Cup for students, whose ninth year is currently under way and will finish next month in New York.)

The first round of the event ended in January, when contestants were to submit a one- to three-page outlining an embedded project “that approaches media in a new and innovative way.” In February, 75 winners were chosen to advance to round two of the event, and received an embedded SPARK hardware/software kit (described later in this story) with which to create their projects.

In May, the three finalists were revealed in a post on the embeddedSPARK forum by contest organizer “Steel” (a.k.a Gitte-Lena Andersen, pictured). At the time, Microsoft said each would receive a flight to the 2011 Windows Embedded DevDive, a new event at the company’s main campus that’s replacing the Mobile and Embedded Developer Conference (canceled in 2008).

We’re not sure what became of the DevDive, but the finalists presented their projects at Microsoft’s campus in Redmond on Jun. 22, according to a new blog posting by Windows Embedded Software Architect Olivier Bloch.

According to Bloch (pictured), the $15,000 first prize went to Sebastian Londoo Salcedo for “ARS8VER,” a flying camera designed to locate disaster victims. The $5,000 second prize went to Gianni Rosa Gallina for “KitchenPal,” a touchscreen meal planner with integrated barcode scanning with a Windows Phone 7-like user interface.The $1,000 third prize went to Marco Boidora for “Digital Blackboard,” an electronic bulletin board whose contents can be viewed over the web.

Flying disaster relief

According to Sebastian Salcedeo’s formal submission, ARS8VER is a device intended to locate people who are in need of rescue following disasters such as earthquakes. It incorporates a quadricopter capable of flying for about 35 minutes on a change, an embedded PC, a solar panel, Wi-Fi, a camera, and a GPS receiver.

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Salcedo writes that the ARS8VER — designed to be controlled remotely from either a laptop or a Windows Phone 7 device — can find victims two different ways. Images from its camera are processed via facial recognition software; meantime, auto captured via its microphone is filtered to remove the helicopter noise and analyze the range (from 300 to 3000Hz) occupied by the human voice, detecting cries for help.

It’s said the ARS8VER also includes a GPS receiver, allowing mapping of what areas have been searched and indicating the exact location of any victims who have been found. When the device’s batteries begin to die, it drifts to the ground, transmitting its location so that it can be collected later. (At that point, it can also start recharging itself using the solar panel, Salcedo says.)

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All-in-one kitchen assistant

Gianni Rosa Gallina’s KitchenPal is described as a “three-in-one device with touchscreen display, suitable for housewives, housekeepers, and people who love cooking.” It includes a pantry and shopping list assistant, a recipe organizer, and a meal planner, he writes.

The KitchenPal

According to Gallina, the KitchenPal device itself has a compact base unit and a seven-inch touchscreen display. It is designed to work with a smartphone application — available in versions for both Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7.5 — that, among other things, can scan barcodes using a device’s camera. Cloud-based synchronization using Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform is also provided, he adds.

Gallina’s proposal did not provide a lot of detail on how the KitchenPal is used, but it does cite the ability to share recipes via Facebook and touches on another particularly interesting aspect. Namely, it’s said that the device’s user interface is very similar to the one for Windows Phone 7, thanks to the Fleux open-source project. Fleux was designed to mimic the Metro user interface on Windows Mobile 6.x devices via the .NET Compact Framework, but Gallina reports that he was able to port it to the KitchenPal’s WIndows Embedded Compact 7 operating system too.

The KitchenPal
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A 21st-century blackboard

Created by Marco Bodoira, whose “Guitar Multi Effect” project won the embeddedSPARK 2010 contest last April, the Digital Blackboard is designed to help members of a household create shopping lists and collaborate on other tasks. It consists of a touchscreen PC with a custom interface written using Expression Blend, and featuring widgets that can be placed anywhere on the screen.

The Digital Blackboard
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According to Bodoira, widgets include:

* Shopping list — this allows creating a list of things to be purchased, then later clicking on them to indicate when they’ve been purchased
* Weather forecast — this shows the weather of a selected city, importing data from an RSS feed
* Facebook — this allows logging onto Facebook and adding a new status phrase
* Note — resembling a Post-It note, this allows entering any desired text
* Calendar — this shows both the date and also lists friends’ birthdays, extracting information about the latter from a Facebook profile
* Clock — shows the time, and can also offer kitchen timers
* Photo slideshow — retrieves photos from Facebook; switches to full-screen mode when other Digital Blackboard functions are not being used
* Marketplace — allows downloading and installing new widgets as well as deleting those that aren’t being usedWhile the above functionality is interesting all on its own, Bodoira adds that data from each widget is sent to the cloud. As a result, it may be accessed by the Windows Phone 7 application shown below.

The Digital Blackboard Windows Phone application
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A mobile device can’t provide exactly the same view as the blackboard, because of screen size limitations. Therefore, Bodoira notes, the panorama shown above allows users to access dedicated shopping list, birthdays, and “remember” screens. Users can make changes on their phones, and the modifications will be relayed back to the at-home Digital Blackboard, he adds.

Accessing the Digital Blackboard via a web browswer
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According to Bodoira, users can also gain access to the Digital Blackboard and make changes from any web browser that’s compatible with Microsoft’s Silverlight. A demo version (above) of this functionality is provided at, he adds.

The Digital Blackboard
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The hardware platform

According to Steel, the embeddedSPARK 2011 contest hardware consisted of Icop’s VDX-6318, featuring an 800MHz Vortex 86SX processor and 256MB of RAM. Contestants were able to build relatively small devices, since the VDX-6318 (below) measures 3.94 x 2.6 inches.

Icop’s VDX6318
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Functionality is comparable to that found in the hardware used in previous contests, and is said to include:

* VGA and TFT-LCD support
* integrated 10/100 Ethernet, with RJ45 connector
* audio
* 3 RS232 ports, and 1 RS232/422/485 port
* 4 USB 2.0 host ports
* PS/2 keyboard/mouse suport
* 2 16-bit GPIOs
* 1 EIDE (UltraDMA-100/66/33) port

The VDX-6318 does not provide a CompactFlash slot. However, that’s not really an issue, as Steel noted when she announced the choice of hardware, because the device will be supplied with a 512GB flash module that behaves just like a typical IDE hard drive — aside from being faster!

Steel’s February posting added that Microsoft would provide contestants with a pre-built Windows Embedded Compact 7 image, Eboot, and bootloader. Also included were to be an SDK (software development kit), BSP (board support package), sample code, and a step-by-step jump start guide, she noted.

The Digital Blackboard and KitchenPal discussed above both used theVDX-6318. As indicated in the diagram of the ARS8VER, however, thatdevice instead employs a main board extracted from Icop’s eBox-3310A-MSJK (a device sanctioned by Microsoft for use in previous contests). The eBox employs a 1GHz MSTI PDX-600 (a version of DMP’s Vortex86DX), and its motherboard was presumably chosen for the quadricopter because it’s lighter than the VDX-6318.

Further information

Further information on the embeddedSPARK 2011 Contest may be found on Microsoft’s website, here, while more details on the hardware appear on the Windows Embedded Compact 7 Jump Start Kit page.