Microsoft announced three winning teams in the Embedded Development part of its Imagine Cup 2011 student contest, which just concluded in New York. Their victorious Windows Embedded Compact 7 devices include: one that indicates safe fire escape routes in real time; another that turns the tedious task of blowing into a lung training device into a musical game; and a third that can find its way home robotically.

 

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Last month, we covered Microsoft’s announcement of three winners in its embeddedSPARK 2011 challenge, which asked academics, hobbyists, or developers to come up with interesting Windows Embedded Compact 7 devices. (The $15,000 first-prize winner was a flying camera designed to locate disaster victims; the $5,000 second prize went to a touchscreen meal planner with a Windows Phone 7-style user interface; and the $1,000 third prize was awarded to a electronic bulletin board whose contents can be manipulated over the Internet.)

But as many readers will already be aware, Microsoft also has a massive competition for students in the form of the Imagine Cup, billed as “the world’s premier student technology competition” and now in its ninth year.” The 2011 Imagine Cup — whose finals concluded July 13 in New York — asked student teams to “imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems.”

As in past years, the 2011 Imagine Cup had multiple categories, any of which could be entered by teams consisting of three or four students and a faculty member. The categories included Software Design, Game Design, Digital Media, Windows Phone 7, Interoperability Challenge, Windows 7 Touch Challenge, IT Challenge, and the Orchard Challenge (the latter involving Orchard, an open-source CMS that’s under development by Microsoft).

The category we’re naturally been following, however, is the Embedded Development challenge. In the first round of this competition, which ended on Jan. 9, teams were asked to submit a “Project Vision Report” (five pages or fewer) that explains what problem they are trying to solve, what the proposed solution is, and why this would be best implemented as an embedded device. The report should briefly discuss proposed hardware and software architecture, Microsoft added.

Out of 350 initial teams, 150 were selected for the second round, and received DM&P’s eBox-3310A-MSJK (pictured), a compact PC that includes a 1GHz MSTI PDX-600 (a version of DMP’s Vortex86DX), 256MB or 512MB of DDR2 RAM, and a Type II/II CompactFlash slot. While being free to add additional hardware and software, teams had to use the eBox and a Windows Embedded Compact 7 operating system image that they themselves configured, built, debugged, and deployed.

The second round concluded on May 5, by which time teams had to submit information on the embedded device they built in the form of written documentation and a video not to exceed five minutes in length. Not long after, the 20 finalist teams — listed on Microsoft’s website — were chosen to receive the free trip to the New York finals.

And the winners are

Starting on July 8, the teams each presented their devices in front of two separate judging panels, who whittled their numbers down to 12 and then just six, according to Microsoft. In the final round of judging, the first-, second-, and third-place teams were selected.

After six days of grueling competition, the $25,000 first prize went to Taiwan’s Team NTHUCS, for “Right!! This way.” This project uses a wireless sensor network to compute the safest fire escape routes in real time, according to Microsoft.

The second prize, worth $10,000, went to team Harmonicare from China. Their project — visible in the CNN video embedded below — aids those suffering from respiratory failure, turning the tedious task of blowing into a lung training device into a musical game.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer appeared on CNN to promote the Imagine Cup
(click to play)

The third prize of $5,000 went to team Endeavour_Design from Romania.They created an intelligent robotic system designed to automaticallyavoid obstacles and find its way back to its control signal when itloses contact with a human operator, Microsoft says.

According to Microsoft, more than 400 students from 70 countries traveled to New York to compete at the Imagine Cup finals. The festivities included remarks from: philanthropist, activist and actor Eva Longoria; CEO of the Startup America Partnership Scott Case; and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the company adds.

S. Somasegar, senior vice president of Microsoft’s developer division, stated, “The innovators, entrepreneurs and humanitarians who compete in the Imagine Cup have developed an inspiring spectrum of projects, raising the bar higher and higher each year. We are in awe of the students’ solutions for addressing social and real-world challenges, and want to help them take their projects to the next level with the financial, technical and business support they need to change the world.”

Further information

The tenth annual Imagine Cup will be held in Sydney, Australia, in July 2012. More information on the just-concluded event may be found on Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2011 website. Specifics about the Embedded Development competition may be found here, and details of all the finalists who went to New York may be found here.