Software You Can Eat: College Students Build Tool to Feed the Hungry

A team of Arizona State University Students won the U.S. Imagine Cup’s Software Design category with a program that takes uneaten restaurant and catered event meals and reroutes it to nearby families that would otherwise go without.

REDMOND, Wash. — A team of students from Arizona State University aims to use Microsoft technology to get uneaten meals from restaurants and catered events to nearby families who would otherwise go hungry.

Team FlashFood with its solution, FlashFood, was the winning team in the prestigious software design category at Microsoft’s U.S. Imagine Cup finals on Monday. The team will advance to compete in the Imagine Cup 2012 Worldwide finals in Sydney, Australia July 6-10.

In the U.S. Imagine Cup’s two gaming categories, the Drexel Dragons from Drexel University won in the Windows Phone game design competition for making a game that teaches elementary school students math, and the team Dr. Fishbowl from Carnegie Mellon University won the Xbox game design competition for creating a game that teaches players about sustainability and how to be responsible for byproducts and waste. LegenDairy, a team from Brigham Young University, won a special new U.S. Windows Azure award for its agriculture cloud computing solution.

All of the 74 students in the competition also received an Acer laptop (loaded with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview) and a Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone, courtesy of sponsors Acer and Nokia.Shortly after winning the software design category, students from FlashFood used the words “excited,” “ecstatic,” “elated” and “stunned” to describe their victory.

“It was a lot of anxiety,” says team member Jake Irvin. “I was telling myself that even if we didn’t win first place, we did a really good job, and Microsoft has treated us really well. We really wanted to win, but we knew if we didn’t win, we’d still made it a long way and we talked to a lot of great people at Microsoft.”

Team FlashFood created a real-time food recovery solution using ASP.NET, SMS texting, Windows Phone, Silverlight and Visual Studio to coordinate same-day food donation deliveries to families in need.

Team FlashFood – Software Design Winners. Team FlashFood created a real-time food recovery solution for families in need, using web-applications and smart phones to coordinate same day food donation deliveries to families. Image credit: Microsoft

Essentially their tool would make sure surplus perishable food generated by businesses, restaurants and caterers finds its way to hungry families. The tool would help businesses make tax deductible donations of their surplus food to a nonprofit that could – using web applications, smart phones and volunteer drivers – transport that food to those who need it.

The team hopes to address “food deserts,” or areas in a city or community that are both low-income and a mile or farther from a grocery store where people have healthy food options. Given limited options, people will choose more expensive and less healthy fast food or food from convenience stores, or may also just go hungry, they say.

“There is food to feed these people, it’s just a distribution issue,” Irvin says. “We’re looking at ways to bring healthier food into these communities. That’s part of the reason we’re focusing on perishable food, not only to fight food waste, but because it tends to be healthier than canned or non-perishable food.”

Team Dr. Fishbowl – Game Design Winners. Team Dr. Fishbowl won first place in the Game Design: Xbox category. By learning to take advantage of their resources, and by taking responsibility for byproducts and waste and finding use for them, players of this game demonstrate a model of sustainability that doesn’t have to compromise between being responsible and being profitable. Image credit: Microsoft

Team FlashFood got its start in August when Irvin, along with teammates Eric Lehnhardt, Katelyn Keberle and Steven Hernandez (who competed in last year’s Imagine Cup), were looking for a school project that would let them use their engineering and technology skills to identify and solve a community problem, Keberle says.

The team zeroed in on bridging two separate but related issues – businesses with surplus but perishable food, and hunger. Traditionally food banks and other community organizations can’t use perishable food donations because they can’t distribute the food fast enough. But what if technology could help change that?

“We started to get the idea that using rapid digital communications, including smart phones, websites and text messaging, we could coordinate the kind of rapid delivery that hasn’t been possible before,” Lehnhardt says.

The students say that while they were working on the project, their teammate Hernandez encouraged them to consider entering it in the Imagine Cup. The team read up on the competition and found that they shared the same mission as Microsoft’s competition – in short, using technology to solve real-world problems and make the world better place.

Team Drexel Dragons – Game Design: Phones. Team Drexel Dragons won first place in the Game Design: Phone category for their game, “Math Dash,” a game that helps students better understand mathematics by mixing teaching with fun. Image credit: Microsoft

Microsoft had more than 113,000 students register for the 2012 U.S. Imagine Cup, and 22 teams traveled to Microsoft’s Redmond campus this weekend for the final competition. Now in its 10th year, the Imagine Cup has grown substantially in its first decade but it’s only the beginning, says Mark Hindsbo, vice president of Microsoft’s U.S. Developer and Platform Evangelism Group.

“The first year there were 2,000 applicants. We’re creating a hockey stick effect – it keeps getting bigger and better,” Hindsbo says. “Every year I go in thinking, ‘This can’t be better than last year,’ and every year I get surprised and amazed again. The students are all at the cutting edge of adoption, whether cloud computing, mobile or Kinect.”

Hindsbo said the Imagine Cup inspires young people to find creative, technology-driven solutions to some of the toughest problems in their communities and the world, from hunger to healthcare.

He hopes the growth and the momentum of Imagine Cup will inspire others to participate, as doing so will help them learn real-world skills they need to help them get high-end computing jobs. More than 800,000 tech industry jobs will be created by 2016, a demand that will be tough to meet in the United States given the shortage of students studying in science, technology, engineering and math in the country.

In addition to the competition becoming bigger, it is also attracting teams of multi-disciplinary students, not just those focused on computer science and engineering. There are now medical students, graphic artists, musicians, business and marketing students, and more represented among the teams.

“My biggest goal is that this is not just a fabulous experience for the students that compete, but that each team inspires 10 new students that might not have thought of pursuing a career in science or technology to pursue a career,” Hindsbo says. “That would be the ultimate dream.”

Imagine Cup Winners – 2012 U.S. Finals

Software Design FlashFood, First Place Travel to Sydney, Australia, to represent the U.S. in the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals this summer. US$8,000, a Windows Phone for each member, and $10,000 donation to Arizona State University. The team created a real-time food recovery solution for families in need, using Web applications and smartphones to coordinate same-day food donation deliveries to families. This will allow for perishable items to be sent in a timelier manner rather than scheduling donations for those items in advance. Arizona State University
Software Design The Miracle Workers, Second Place $4,000 The team developed a sleeping pad for infants to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other respiratory diseases. A sleeping pad monitors the infant’s heartbeat, breathing and movement, sending the data to a PC, which in turn sends alerts via a Windows Phone application using Microsoft Visual Studio. Winona State University
Software Design Team Physically Kinected, Third Place $3,000 The team created CAMI (Collaboration and Annotation of Medical Images), a solution that allows medical professionals to use technology to collaborate in real time across distances to save lives. University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Software Design Team KinectMath, Fourth Place $1,000 The team created a tool for math education that utilizes Microsoft Kinect to provide a new, interactive way to teach abstract math concepts and visualize them in real time. University of Washington – Bothell Campus
Game Design: Mobile Team Drexel Dragons $6,000 and a donation to Drexel University for the amount of $10,000 By learning to take advantage of their resources, and by taking responsibility for byproducts and waste and finding use for them, players of this game demonstrate a model of sustainability that doesn’t have to compromise between being responsible and being profitable. Drexel University
Game Design: Mobile Team Pig Master $3,000 The only high school team competing in the U.S. finals has designed a game that uses sustainable energy sources such as rivers and windmills to create electricity for ravaged cities. Players maneuver water wheels and solar panels to provide power to villages. This game will entertain and teach players alternate ways to produce electricity that won’t have damaging effects on the environment. Springbrook High School
Game Design: Mobile Team Wasabi Ninja $2,000 The team created an educational game aimed at fighting diseases. The game teaches younger audiences that we are all vulnerable to easily communicable diseases, focusing in particular on HIV/AIDS and malaria with factoids displayed throughout the game. University of Washington – Bothell Campus
Game Design: Mobile Panther Games Team Alpha $1,000 The team created an Xbox game that addresses oil spills in the ocean. The player commands Rapid, Ocean Hazard Responders, a fictional organization that has been charged by the United Nations Environmental Program to clean up major oil spills in the ocean. University of Houston
Game Design: Windows/Xbox Team Dr. Fishbowl $6,000 and a donation to Drexel University for the amount of $10,000 The team created “Math Dash,” a game that helps students better understand mathematics, mixing teaching with fun. Drexel University
Game Design: Windows/Xbox Team Digital Infinity $3,000 Word Hog is a kid’s game about a group of pigs who need the player’s help to write a paper for a school project. In the upper portion of the screen, the player controls a trampoline where pigs bounce toward bubbles to collect items such as letters. The bottom part of the screen is a puzzle where the pigs can use those letters to create words, shift the letters around or discard letters. University of California-Los Angeles
Game Design: Windows/Xbox Team Credit / No Credit $2,000 The player takes the role as Phagy, a nanomachine engineered specifically to destroy harmful materials in the water systems of developing countries. University of Houston
Game Design: Windows/Xbox Team Zigers $1,000 The team created a game, “Children of War,” which is based upon struggles in Africa between villages and rebel groups. The game puts the player into the shoes of a Ugandan child living in a village; the player must sneak past rebels and obstacles, rescue other children, and lead them all to safety in a race before dawn. Santa Ana College, Chapman University

*Source: Microsoft

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