Young ideas in action at UAE’s 2017 Imagine Cup

An innovative trio of American University of Dubai computer engineering student landed the UAE’s 2017 Imagine Cup, along with US$15,000 at the Armani Hotel recent competition finale for an intelligent receptacle that rewards public recycling.
From left, Abdul Rahman Bin Haider, Jamil Helou and Mohamed Hassan, the winners of the Imagine Cup UAE 2017. Satish Kumar / The National
From left, Abdul Rahman Bin Haider, Jamil Helou and Mohamed Hassan, the winners of the Imagine Cup UAE 2017. Satish Kumar / The National

There’s a phrase used in England: “Where there’s muck, there’s brass”.

The missive has proved telling for an innovative trio of American University of Dubai computer engineering students. They landed the UAE’s 2017 Imagine Cup, along with US$15,000 at the Armani Hotel recent competition finale for an intelligent receptacle that rewards public recycling.

Green Jam is made up of Egyptian Mohamed Hassan, Emirati Abdulrahman bin Haider, both 21, and Palestinian Jamil El Helou, 23. The group wowed judges with a prototype that accepts and sorts cans, plastic and glass bottles, using recognition cameras.

Inspiration came from witnessing someone drop a can into a container marked for plastics.

“Using recycling bins wrongly adds cost – the government has to segregate materials,” says Mr Hassan. “We created a smart recycling station that can be placed at bus stops, metro stations … it allows users to [theoretically] collect points to gain Etisalat or du credit or top up Nol cards.”

Device users register and then download an app and receive a QR code to scan when depositing. The station then issues redeemable points via the cloud to a user’s account.

The Imagine Cup was founded by Microsoft’s Bill Gates 15 years ago as part of YouthSpark, Microsoft’s global CSR initiative.

The UAE leg was introduced a decade ago and earlier this year a Microsoft Imagine Cup roadshow visited UAE universities to encourage entries and offer intensive training sessions to project-minded academics.

Among them was second year IT Dubai Women’s College HCT duo Alia Nasser, 19, and Kaltham Mohammed, 20. The Emiratis earned third place with iBins, a primarily public receptacle that self-monitors and alerts cleaning staff when nearing capacity.

With smart cities theming the 2017 competition, Dubai traffic inspired University of Wollongong’s Bass team to second place.

Indian bachelor of computer science students Bedang Sen, 19, Siddharth Arya and Aayussi Jethwann, both 21, are targeting queues with SmartT Signal.

“We started thinking of problems we could solve while making cities smart,” explains Mr Sen. “We soon realised a problem facing us all irrespective of age or profession; we get stuck in jams. It affects our time, the environment, and affects us financially.”

SmartT Signal “manipulates” traffic signals based on data collected by Bluetooth beacons at each light and an app run by driver smartphones.

Information is transmitted to Microsoft’s cloud service Azure, a mandatory tool for all the Imagine Cup projects, ultimately telling signals to stay green longer during heavy traffic. Mr Sen hopes the RTA will implement the solution.

An emphasis on green initiatives among the eight finalists – shortlisted from 108 entries across the UAE – extended to water scarcity.

Over-watered plants at their Al Ain Women’s College campus prompted Emirati IT students Maitha Saeed, 23 and Mariam Luwaihi, 24, to create Smart Irrigation – and inform farmers of a system that employs air humidity, sunlight and soil moisture sensors to gauge precise irrigation needs.

And Banes Mercenaries, of Middlesex University, are encouraging water conservation with a set-up that details domestic usage – and rewards prudence.

“Dewa has an app that monitors the entire household, but you can’t see which tap you’ve used most water from so we attach sensors,” says Pakistani student Aamir Khan, 23.

Data ultimately lands via an app as a graph, revealing usage hot spots.

“You can make lifestyle changes based on that,’’ adds Mr Khan. In collaboration with Dewa, points would be accumulated for good practice towards bill reductions.

Michael Mansour, chief innovation officer at Microsoft Gulf, hopes teams take their ideas beyond Imagine Cup.

“Students look at problems we face with a fresh perspective. There are things they see can be solved through the power of technology,” he says

“At Microsoft we have a corporate and social responsibility to help UAE students realise their potential and consider a career in entrepreneurship using those skills. It‘s a foot in the ecosystem.

“We hope students take those ideas to the next level … over time become an integral part of the SME economy.”

Veresh Sita, chief digital officer of Imagine Cup sponsor Emaar Properties, was so impressed he invited entrants to contact his HR department about career opportunities.

“The young generation, their thinking and approach to technology is totally fearless, unencumbered by previous paradigms,” he says.

“Youth have an important role to play. We’re sponsoring Imagine Cup for that reason. We’ve built this city in the desert, so you’re running into unique problems and these kids are applying common sense, logic, science and [finding] solutions.”

Green Jam, meanwhile, head to the semi-finals in Beirut next month vying for a place in the Seattle global finals.

“Recognition is more important than the money,” adds Mr Hassan. “Dubai has a goal of becoming one of the top sustainable cities by 2020 – our project can help achieve that and even accelerate things.”

business@thenational.ae​

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Published: April 24, 2017 04:00 AM

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