Team mentored by Five Minutes finishes 2nd on Croatian Imagine Cup finals

Imagine Cup is the world’s premier student technology competition organized by Microsoft. The most important category of the competition is Software Design, for which students create real-world applications and solutions to help people and communities around the globe. This year for the Croatian finals (winner from each country goes to worldwide finals, this year held in New York), I mentored a great team from Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing in Zagreb, the Ion Project.

Ion Project is a team of 4 students who created a system for power management in the home and office and thus eliminating vampire consumption of standby power. The idea is to raise money for solving UN Millenium Goals by reducing unnecessary consumption of electricity and donating just the tiny part of saved money. The system (combination of advanced hardware devices and software services spanning web, mobile and embedded) automatically shuts down devices when there is nobody in the room (tracking movement with a camera, sounds with microphone and cell-phone presence through Bluetooth), and it enables home automation through scheduling and remote controlling of devices through web.

But the basic idea is to calculate savings through detailed analytics and create the platform for donating money – did you know that it takes $120 per year to educate one child, or that the tetanus vaccine costs around $30? The platform is intended to connect developed western countries and facilitate money transfer to third-world countries. The potential is huge – it is estimated that there are 250 million households in USA, Western Europe and Australia, and if you multiply this with $200, which is an estimated amount of unnecessary electricity costs connected with unnecessary consumption (e.g. leaving the lights on even if there is nobody in the room) and vampire power (typical plasma TV uses 12Wh when *not* working), you get a potential of 50 billion USD. If you save just 1%, that’s 500 million USD. Or the cost of basic education in 12 undeveloped countries. Or food for 675.000 people each year. The project was supported by local United Nations Development Programme office.

Ion Team (click for larger picture)
But in the end, Ion Project finished 2nd behind project KiDnect. The winners used Kinect to help children with cerebral palsy exercise and engage in physical activity following the instructions from the screen. The idea itself is great and by far deserving most compliments and congratulations. Still, as a mentor (which gives me the opportunity to be completely subjective) and as a person who saw all the presentations, I have mixed emotions and strongly believe that Ion project showed top class, seniority in both the technology approach and the business model. Although one argument holds – similar projects have been seen before and there are similar systems dealing with home automation (only far more expensive and not saving vampire power, thus not linked with the donations system and UNDP).

Still this has been a great experience for all the members of Ion Team, and for me as well. I congratulate all the contestants on Croatian Imagine Cup finals, especially the winners and hope they’ll present us in the best light in July in New York and continue the tradition of top ranks for teams from Croatia. But I have the most praise for the Ion team – Domagoj, Bruno, Davor and Ivan. Heads up guys, you performed great and learned a lot!

You can read the report from the finals on Bug Online (translated to English with Google Translate).