Issue 27

With Smilestone at Imagine Cup 2014

Dan Suciu
Lecturer, PhD @ Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, UBB


Imagine Cup is an annual IT competition addressed to students worldwide. The competition is organized by Microsoft and its purpose is the development of software solutions which target the mankind"s most important problems and have real chances to become commercial soft products.

We can say beyond any doubt that Imagine Cup is the most important competition of the kind, taking into consideration the number of countries and teams taking part, the quality of the developed solutions and, last but not least, the prizes offered. The evolution of the competition is also interesting: if, during the first edition, in 2003, a total number of 1000 competitors from 25 countries were registered, this year there was a participation record of 358.000 registered students representing 190 countries or regions. The total number of registered students ever since 2003 is 1.75 million!

General description

Through the twelve years, Imagine Cup has gone off on several sections and has known different formats. In the last two editions, each of the participating teams had the opportunity to come up with solutions in one of the following categories: Innovation, World Citizenship and Games.

The prizes at stake this year, for each of the three categories, were generous:

  • 1st place: 50.000 $
  • 2nd place: 10.000 $
  • 3rd place: 5.000 $

Moreover, the winners of the first place for each category would take part in a final round which would decide who would come into possession of the cup, the bonus being a private mentoring session with Bill Gates.

Besides the three categories mentioned above, there were also other competitions which the teams could enter, but they are of a lesser importance in terms of impact or prizes at stake. In 2014, one was also able to compete for: Apps for Office Challenge, Visual Studio Online Boost, Windows & Windows Phone Challenge, Brain Games 2.0, Project Blueprint Challenge.

During the first eleven years, the Imagine Cup competition was organized in different cities all over the world: Barcelona (2003), Sao Paulo (2004), Yokohama (2005), Delhi (2006), Seoul (2007), Paris (2008), Cairo (2009), Warsaw (2010), New York (2011), Sidney (2012) and St. Petersburg (2013). Beginning with this year, Imagine Cup has returned home, to Seattle, Washington, where there are also the main quarters of Microsoft and this city will continue to host the competition in the next few years.

Unlike most of the previous editions, this year there was no generic theme announced for the presented solutions to get in line with. Basically, anyone who had an idea they thought was worth developing and transformed into a successful product with an impact on the global market could enter the section they considered the most suitable. Obviously, since Imagine Cup is organized by Microsoft, there was the minimum requirement that the solutions be developed using Microsoft technologies (but not exclusively).

According to the popularity of the competition, each country could organize local and national phases in view of identifying a team to represent the respective country to the next level on each of the Innovation, World Citizenship and Games sections. The next level was a regional phase where they would select a fixed number of solutions to go to the world final in Seattle.

Even if certain aspects of organization and structure are modified from one year to another, they are not altered in a fundamental way. We offer you some general information:

  • A new Imagine Cup season usually begins in September/October (at the beginning of the school/academic year), when each of those who wish to participate start forming teams and enter brainstorming sessions in order to select the central idea of the future solution. Once the team formed and the solution somewhat penciled, they can register on the site: www.ImagineCup.com.
  • Certain universities may organize local, internal competitions, when there are several teams registered for the competition from the respective institutions. In the past, both the Babes-Bolyai University and the Technical University organized such sessions, the teams on the first 2-3 places qualified for the national phase. In 2014, this no longer happened and the teams entered directly an online phase of selecting the solutions that would participate in the national phase (three solutions for each section). For each solution, the participating teams had to send the documentation and any other materials (films, installation kits, etc.) which might help to a better evaluation (for this phase, the solution can be only partially implemented).
  • In the national phase (carried out in the premises of the Polytechnics University, Bucharest), each of the qualified teams had the opportunity to describe their solution live, to make a demo (10 minutes) and answer to the questions of the jury (for other 10 minutes).
  • The regional phase was again an online one; the above mentioned materials were updated and sent to a regional jury. Romania belongs to the Central and East Europe region, together with over 20 other countries. Following the selection, 6 solutions were selected to go to Seattle.
  • In the world phase, for two days there were two evaluation sessions (one for presentation, which lasted for 10 minutes, and the other one hands-on, when each member of the jury could spend 15 minutes on the solution and could ask detailed questions). 10 teams were present for each of the Innovation and Games sessions and 14 teams for the World Citizenship section.

The evaluation criteria for this year were the following:

  • Concept (15%) - clearly defined issue/need, concisely explained solution, exact delimitation of potential clients.
  • Innovation (50%) - innovation is assessed from different perspectives: the way the problem was solved, the user interface manner, solving a problem having no current solution etc.
  • Execution (20%) - the quality of the software application from the point of view of the interface, the execution speed, security etc.

Feasibility (15%) - the degree of credibility regarding the success potential of the application.

SMT stand at Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), Seattle

The participation of Romania

Through the years, Romania has been present to the Imagine Cup, winning numerous prizes in different sections, especially in IT Challenge, Embedded Development and Digital Media, culminating in winning the cup in 2009 by the Sytech team from Iasi.

Cluj has been present with interesting solutions, especially in the Software Design section (considered until two years ago the most important section, whose winner would also get the imagination cup). One of the members of the team participating in 2010 and 2011, Simplex, gave an interview for Today Software Magazine on their solution through Mira.

Another team from Cluj represented Romania in the final in Seattle this year. The team is called Smile Technology (SMT) and it is formed of three students from the English Informatics department of the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics of Babes-Bolyai University: Bogdan Mursa, Rares Udrea and Bogdan Pop (in the order they appear in the picture below), team which I had the pleasure to coordinate. The solution proposed by them, Smilestone, is an application implementing by means of a Kinect device a series of exercises useful in the process of language and speech recovery for the people who have lost their speaking ability after a stroke.

The idea of the solution came almost three years ago when we first got in touch with psychologist Dr. Stefania Budacu. She was collaborating at the time with the Floreasca hospital and heard about the Mira project from TV. The Mira project was also a solution for physical recovery, but oriented towards the upper and lower limbs. The doctor explained to us that the first step towards recovery that has to be taken by those who suffer from paralysis after a stroke is to recover their ability to communicate (the actual word mentioned by her back then was unmuting).

However, for this step there wasn"t any non-invasive software solution. Such a solution would have allowed a patient to continue his recovery exercises also outside his meetings with his physician, so that the recovery period, which generally is long and difficult, would be shortened. The opinions are divided in this domain: some physicians state that the results of the recovery process can be seen in the early stages after the stroke and that, the more time goes by, the chance for the patient to succeed in going back to the way he used to communicate or move before the stoke drops significantly. On the other hand, there are physicians who insist that the effects of recovery can suddenly show up after a period of time as long as 10 years. We do not wish to go into medical and therapeutic details, but it is worth mentioning the fact that, no matter the opinions, they all agree that the time spent in recovery activities has a determinant influence in recovering the initial abilities to a high degree.

At the moment, a therapist spends about an hour with a patient. The existence of a software dedicated to this recovery might increase the time spent by a patient doing recovery exercises up to three hours. A three times longer recovery time cannot do but enhance the chances of success.

Moreover, Smilestone stores data sets which can be extremely useful for the therapist to assess the current state, the registered progress and the elements on which to insist further.

Microsoft Kinect is a device without which it would have been impossible to build a non-invasive recovery system. Built first of all as a natural interface for different games, it can detect parts of the body and can actuate the movement of these parts in real time.

Smilestone needed to detect especially the movements of the facial muscles. One of the necessary functionalities, such as the detection of the movement of the mouth and lips, were already implemented in SDK. Unfortunately, however, the interpretation of these movements was ruined by the fact that each time the data came symmetric based on an average between the two parts. Another challenge was in the possibility of detecting the movements of the tongue when it was outside the mouth. Since nothing had been implemented in this respect, those from the Smile Technology team have implemented an algorithm from scratch, which, refined in several stages, proved to be very accurate.

The accuracy of the tongue detection was so good that one of the members of the jury suggested a radical deviation from the subject dealt with by Smilestone to the development of a non-invasive man-computer interface which could allow completely paralyzed people to use the computer by using exclusively the movements of the tongue.

Awards ceremony

Instead of a conclusion…

In very few words, this was the solution proposed by Romania this year to the world final of Imagine Cup in Seattle. Even if it was not one of the rewarded projects, we think it has a great potential. What has been done so far is but a first step: we have succeeded in building algorithms for the detection of the main facial muscles involved in the activity of speech recovery.

What comes next is the implementation of some specific exercises and finding partners who will want to get involved in the stage of clinical testing of the system. Unlike any other recovery exercises, speech recovery is complicated and delicate, that is why we anticipate that the testing process will be difficult. Still, we do hope that the results will match the effort.




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