DUBAI // Could a home-grown idea such as a text-message service to help with a medical emergency change the world? What about a recycling bin that can tell what is being dumped in it and reward the dumper? These were just two ideas from some of the Gulf's young creative minds who offered visions yesterday of how technology could solve some of the world's toughest problems in the regional finals at the Imagine Cup, an innovation competition sponsored by Microsoft for university students.
Teams from the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain took part. The presentations incorporated a wide range of concepts using mobile and computing technology to deal with such challenges as enabling physically disabled people to use a computer and teaching dyslexic students how to read. Other ideas offered a lighter approach, such as giving drivers advance warning of traffic jams and using a mobile to hail a taxi.
One Emirati initiative by a team called the UAE Pixels, from the Abu Dhabi Men's College, tried to tackle the issue of managing school records and schedules for students, parents and administrators through an easy-to-use website. The website aims to help schools in the Gulf with attendance problems that are often discovered only several days after a student stops going to class. "Our favourite feature is the drag-and-drop in the schedule where anybody can use it as soon as they see it," said Ahmed Mohammed al Mansoori, a UAE Pixels member, who added that he had plans to finish the website and expand it through the Gulf after he graduated this year.
One of the event's early contenders was "Cash Trash", by a group of students from the University of Bahrain. The team resubmitted its computerised recycling bin that can sense if a soft drink can or a plastic wrapper is dumped into it. The bin won the regional finals last year but did not make it to the 2009 Imagine Cup finals in Egypt, as the receptacle was held at Egyptian customs. "We want to be the first team from the Arab world to win the Imagine Cup," said Ahmed al Tayeb, a Cash Trash member.
But yesterday's big winners were three women from the American University of Kuwait who took the overall software category for their multi-touch tutoring system for the physically handicapped. The team's technology uses sensors and webcams to help teach physically handicapped students English and maths. "We believe we've put the ability back into disability," said Aisha al Ruwaished, one of the winning team's members.
The international Imagine Cup finals will take place next month in Warsaw. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org