Windows Embedded: Seeds of Hope for Student Developers?

Back in 2003 when we all had travel budgets and that sort of thing, Microsoft would fly journalists out to locations like Brazil to cover the finals of its student developer competition which it calls the Imagine Cup. Although I missed the Brazil trip by a whisper, the event is still run and it did afford me the chance to see part of the event staged at the Telecom Tower a couple of years ago.

Back in 2003 when we all had travel budgets and that sort of thing, Microsoft would fly journalists out to locations like Brazil to cover the finals of its student developer competition which it calls the Imagine Cup. Although I missed the Brazil trip by a whisper, the event is still run and it did afford me the chance to see part of the event staged at the Telecom Tower a couple of years ago.

So it was Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio with a cocktail, or the Telecom Tower with a mini bottle of Stella and a packet of Twiglets. I know, there’s not much in it is there?

Anyway, this year (with finals in Cairo this week) the good people at Microsoft have remembered that I seem to talk about this event on a fairly regular basis. As such, they sent me not quite a flight to Egypt (despite me having connections with plenty of Egyptian media having worked in the country), but instead – a gleaming set of press materials.

Now in its seventh year, this year’s theme is, “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems facing us today.” Students have been asked to create technology solutions that align to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to Microsoft back in 2003, there were a thousand competitors from 11 countries – and the first winner now has his own company with 27 employees - fast forward to 2009 and the Imagine Cup has attracted over 300,000 students from more than 100 countries.

So ranting aside, the ‘Embedded Development’ category appears to stand out in this year’s Imagine Cup. This portion of the competition challenges students to go beyond the PC/desktop and work in both hardware and software to build an embedded solution using Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R2. Students are given the X86-based DM&P/ICOP eBox-4300 hardware, on which contestants run Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R2 and Visual Studio, a suite of software development tools.

The embedded development category sees entries in fields such as agriculture, education, green innovations and healthcare. Here’s a snapshot of a couple of the finalists:

A team called PARV from the USA have created a medicine-dispensing kiosk, which can offer local communities basic medical advice and diagnoses and intelligently dispense a variety of over-the-counter medicines, after taking and analysing users’ temperature, or checking their pulse.

NB: remember, these are all college level students.

Egypt’s own Medbox created a solution that allows RFID tags to be secured to blood samples, medical equipment and patients to better track people and critical medical information. This is hoped to vastly reduce the number of blood mismatches during transfusions.

Intellectronics, from the Ukraine developed the Mobile e-Health System (MeHS) a mobile, cost-effective solution that provides rural communities and emergency services with real-time remote medical access.

Now the Imagine Cup may have open source purists choking on their hoummus and baba-ganoush. The students’ wild-eyed enthusiasm is generally matched by a burning desire to win the event and the prospect of a first job with Microsoft. But to simply criticise would be unfair.

This event champions student coders, it also allows natural team development to shine through. One student has to take on the sales/marketing role and present their solution while others (in the teams of three or four) often take on the back office roles and look after more of the nuts and bolts.

Anyway chaps, enjoy the Pyramids, enjoy the chance to witness young coders doing well and most of all – avoid Abdul Rahman’s kebab and falafel store round the back of Tahreya Square in central Cairo where I caught amoebic dysentery from one of his dodgy unwashed plates OK?

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