There's a dancing koala bear running around this auditorium. One hell of a powerful fog machine is filling the room with smoke. And before long, a man is going to walk down the aisle playing a didgeridoo. But there's no doubt that I'm in the right place. The guy wearing a varsity jacket that says “1337” on the back is one clue. Another is the massive cheer that envelops the room at the mention of the Higgs boson. “It's been a good week to be a geek,” says the Australian comedian emcee-ing the Imagine Cup closing ceremony in Sydney. And I suppose it has.
The closing ceremony of Microsoft's international student technology competition is a lot like the opening ceremony from five days ago: a lot of “change the world” talk, a dash of “children are our future” and the exact same playlist, though nobody seems to mind. Justin Bieber speaks equally to all nations. There's even another “Oprah's Favorite Things” moment. (The competitors are all getting a Windows 8 machine, when it comes out).
This time, though, there are winners. In the software design category, Team Quadsquad from Ukraine came out on top with their gloves that translate sign language into speech. A system of automatically dimming lights that save energy won second place, and the wi-GO, a Kinect-powered shopping cart that follows disabled users took third.
In game design, a band of furry creatures seeking to stop deforestation in Team Tang Thai's game Verdant Fantasy won the Windows/Xbox category, while the Drexel Dragons from the U.S. took home the top prize for Windows Phone with their educational game Math Dash. Read more about the best winning projects in the gallery above.
The entrepreneur-friendly environment that is increasingly being cultivated at the Imagine Cup means that it's not only in Microsoft's long-term interest, but in the students and in ours as well. If these students go on to create technology businesses that are motivated by the desire to help people, rather than the desire to soak in bathtubs full of money, well, so much the better for all of us.
“These kids have unbounded energy and passion,” says S. Somasegar, Microsoft's corporate vice president of the developer division. “Kids say 'I can change the world,' and whether they can or cannot, that raw energy serves them well.”
A popular question from the judges during teams' final presentations was: “What have you learned at the Imagine Cup?” A lot of people just said something complimentary about the judges' feedback. But one of the members of The Doers team from Brazil, who came in second place in Windows/Xbox game design for their Sim City-esque game about working together to develop a town, replied: “We learned that people can be very nice. That is not always the case.”
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.