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ASU team wins top national student technology competition

Posted: April 14, 2011

A team of Arizona State University students has won the top prize in the U.S. finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup, the premier student technology competition.

Team Note-Taker – three students in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and one in The Design School – will now  go on to compete in the Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide Finals in New York City July 8-13.

ASU’s Team Note-Taker earned first place in the U.S. finals of the prestigious Microsoft Imagine Cup technology competition. From left to right are team mentor John Black, and team members Qian Yan, David Hayden, Shashank Srinivas and Michael Astrauskas. Photo: Courtesy of Microsoft.

ASU’s Team Note-Taker earned first place in the U.S. finals of the prestigious Microsoft Imagine Cup technology competition. From left to right are team mentor John Black, and team members Qian Yan, David Hayden, Shashank Srinivas and Michael Astrauskas. Photo: Courtesy of Microsoft.

The team’s project is a portable custom-designed camera connected to a pen-and-multitouch Tablet PC that aids visually impaired students in classroom note-taking.

Created and first prototyped by  student David Hayden, the Note-Taker device was developed over the past two and a half years in the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing – known as CUbiC – in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

CUbiC is involved in the design of technologies and devices to assist people with perceptual or cognitive disabilities. ASU students and faculty collaborate on projects in the center’s lab.

“We’re especially excited by this award,” says Sethuraman Panchanathan, founder and director of CUbiC and chief research officer in ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “It’s a testament to the impact of the work that students and researchers are doing in CUbiC and how it’s benefiting the community.”

For its first-place Imagine Cup finish, Team Note-Taker received $8,000. In addition, Microsoft will donate $25,000 to ASU.

Three ASU teams compete

Thousands of student teams register to compete each year in the U.S.  Imagine Cup. Of 22 teams that made it to this year’s national finals, three were teams of ASU engineering students.

The competition takes place near Seattle at the headquarters and other of facilities of Microsoft,
one of the world’s leading computer technology corporations.

Along with Hayden, Team Note-Taker members are Michael Astraukas, Qian Yan and Shashank Srinivas. The team’s mentor is John Black, a CubiC lab research scientist.

The team entered the Software Design division of the event, the Imagine Cup category in which competition is the toughest, Black says.

Team EDO and Team Transit Trackers – all of the members students majoring in computer science in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering – also represented ASU at the U.S. Imagine Cup finals.

Team EDO – Ryan Scott and Travis Sein – finished in fourth place in the competition’s Mobile Game Design category. Scott and Sein developed a mobile-phone application called Word Mine as a word puzzle game designed for Windows Phone 7.

The game aims to make it fun to learn vocabulary, spelling and different languages, Sein says.

ASU Team Transit Trackers – Kevin Putman, German Greiner, Steven Hernandez, Arash Tadayon – developed technology for an information network to make it easier for people – especially the visually impaired – to use public transit.

The Transit Tracker project was also developed through CUbiC.

Team EDO’s mentor is Andreas Sandin, the information technology chief for the engineering schools’ dean’s office. Sandin created visual graphics for the team’s Word Mine game.

Team Transit Trackers is mentored by former ASU research technologist Sreekar Krishna.

Future plans for Note-Taker

Last year, the Note-Taker device garnered a first- place trophy in the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in Poland, competing in a special category that required teams to use Microsoft Windows-based Tablet PCs in projects designed to improve access to education.

“We’ve made substantial improvements for this year’s U.S. Imagine Cup Finals, including the design of a third-generation, three-dimensional-printed, camera prototype,” Hayden says. The team plans to make more advances in the technology and develop a product for commercialization.

Hayden, now a graduate student, began work on Note-Taker when his visual disability began hindering his pursuit of undergraduate degrees at ASU in computer science and mathematics.

Legally blind, he found that none of the commercially available assistive technologies allowed him to keep up with the fast-pace of note-taking in his senior-level math classes. The Note-Taker allowed him to solve that problem.

The Note-Taker camera is able to tilt up and down, sweep side to side, and zoom in on its target. The Tablet PC provides a split-screen display. One half of the screen has a window that shows live video from the camera, while the other half has a window used for handwriting or typing notes.

This split-screen interface allows students with visual impairment to quickly glance back and forth between the live view of a classroom presentation and their notes, just like their sighted peers. The video window allows the user to aim and zoom the camera by simply dragging, tapping or pinching within the video window.

The team is expanding its capabilities by providing audio and video recording that allows synchronized playback of lectures, along with the corresponding handwritten or typed notes, so students can quickly review lessons after classes.

The improvements will allow the student to select any portion of the handwritten or typed notes previously taken in class, and then see the video that was being recorded while those notes were being taken.

Hayden says his ultimate goal is to see Note-Taker have a positive impact on some of the tens of millions people in the United States whose education is hampered by low visual capabilities – including the roughly 60 percent of working-age adults among those with such visual impairments who are not part of the nation’s work force due to their disabilities.

Advancing the technologies

Members of Team EDO and Team Transit Trackers say they are also continuing to work on making advancements with their inventions.

While expanding Word Mine, Sein and Scott also want to develop Number Mine to help teach mathematics, and Jewel Mine, a game that will be “more about fun than education,” Sein says.

The team’s fourth-place finish was the result of experience gained when he and Scott competed in last year’s Imagine Cup, he says. They are already preparing for the 2012 competition.

Transit Trackers members want to expand the capabilities and reach of its “crowd-sourcing information network,” including adapting it for use on all “smart phone” technology platforms, Putman says.

He sees the network’s potential for not only assisting people in using public transportation but helping transit systems operate more efficiently.

Video reports

See video of Hayden and his Note-Taker teammates talking about their award-winning project on
on a local TV news report and on

Joe Kullman, [email protected]
(480) 965-8122
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

About The Author

Joe Kullman

Joe Kullman is a science writer for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Before joining Arizona State University in 2006, Joe worked as a reporter, writer and editor for newspapers and magazines dating back to the dawn of the age of the personal computer. He began his career while earning degrees in journalism and philosophy from Kent State University in Ohio. Media Contact: [email protected] | 480-965-8122 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Communications

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