Engineering team wins first place in regional Microsoft contest

From left, students Agu Nwosu, Scott Hoffman, Margaret Pearce and Matthew Smudz. Photo courtesy Scott Hoffman.

UM-Dearborn computer and information science students Scott Hoffman, Agu Nwosu, Margaret Pearce and Matthew Smudz won first place in the regional Imagine Cup Software Design Competition, sponsored by Microsoft and held at the Microsoft Technology Center in Southfield on March 10.

Each team member received an Xbox 360 console and Kinect bundle for the win.

The team also received an honorable mention in the U.S. finals for the effort and quality of the team’s project idea.

Hoffman said of his team members, “The skills and experiences the team contributed to the project were some of the best I have ever encountered. I am looking forward to working with them to keep advancing our idea.”

This year’s competition focused on the theme “Imagine a World Where Technology Helps Solve the Toughest Problems.” Contestants were encouraged to address one or more of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals in their submission, which consisted of a promotional video, project plan and a prototype of the solution.

The UM-Dearborn team focused on environmental sustainability, specifically by promoting reuse in order to combat global warming and waste. The proposed solution, named “Branch&Found,” addresses the difficult challenges of environmental sustainability by tapping into a human characteristic: the desire to give.

“The system utilizes geographically-aware software on mobile phones and the Internet to match people in need with suppliers that have a surplus,” Hoffman said. “By limiting the search results to resources near the users’ current location, we hope to eliminate lack of transportation as a barrier to obtaining items while simultaneously promoting community goodwill.”

The team also discovered a new perspective on their field of study. “The potential for our skills to help people on a large scale is thrilling,” said Smudz. “When you read these horrifying statistics about how much waste we generate, your first thought isn’t ‘Hey, I’m a programmer, I can help!’ Now I realize that with ingenuity and teamwork, our abilities can have an enormous impact.”

The Imagine Cup contest gave students a chance to interact one on one with people at Microsoft. The team presented their project idea on two separate occasions to Microsoft engineers. “Our team received the highest complements on our work, especially on the regional contest on March 10” said Pearce. “We also received some incredibly valuable feedback,” added Smudz. “The constructive criticism was just as helpful as the overwhelming positivity and encouragement.”

Submitted by Scott Hoffman

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