Students' app wins healthy respect

NYU Abu Dhabi held a three-day competition where students from different universities gathered to create applications that would benefit society.

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ABU DHABI // For three days, IT students lived on coffee and determination and breathed technology.

The New York University Abu Dhabi campus invited more than 50 students to the capital for a weekend of hammering out solutions for the greater good of society at the first 'hackathon' to be held in the region.

On Friday, the students worked in teams to come up with applications that would catch the attention of a panel of judges that included entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and representatives of software companies.

Ahmed Al Saleem and Hamza Al Kofahi, students at Jordan University of Science and Technology, took first prize with KineTherapy, a programme for doctors to set up exercises for patients. With the help of a motion sensor from Microsoft, the patient would copy the exercise at home and the data would be sent to a clinic. The app would indicate if a patient was doing the exercises properly.

Roy Zakka, chief executive of Ubanquity Systems and one of the judges, said the students had obstacles to overcome but their talent shone through.

"A lot had language barriers and hadn't done a lot of public speaking and presentations," he said. "We didn't hold that against them. They actually had demos and that was amazing."

On Sunday night, after three days of programming and mentoring by IT experts, 14 teams had just five minutes to pitch their applications to the judges complete with working demonstrations.

The resources available to some of the participants in their home countries were limited.

"They don't have a lot of what we take for granted like technology, internet and other resources," Mr Zakka said. "You have to give them credit for something like that."

The winning pair said their idea came from a doctor. When they landed in Abu Dhabi, they had to work from scratch on methods that would take exercise out of the clinic and into the home.

"First of all kinect [the sensor] is designed specifically for the Xbox. When you change the hardware or software for another console, you have to convert it first to work on this device. Then we had to change from the game engine to make it work," Mr Al Saleem, 22, said.

The next step is to complete development.

"Some of the judges were thinking of the market but for us it is not about money. The aim is to help humankind," he said.

Tenghao Zhou and Max Stoller, both from NYU New York, teamed up with Monir abu Hilal from Jordan's Princess Sumaya University for Technology.

"We spoke the language of technology," Mr Al Hilal said about the language barriers between the team members, all 21. They secured second place with a programme that broke down statistics from the website into simple data.

Katy Blumer, Alice Tessen, Ali Taqi, Nishant Mohanchandra and Halim Lagrid placed third for their Makindu Children's Centre database project.

They created an application designed to help non-governmental organisations increase efficiency in submitting records and reports to donors.