Filipino students’ app places in top 10 of Microsoft tech competition

Microsoft’s 15th annual Imagine Cup commenced its competition late July as 54 student teams from 39 different countries to present their high-tech projects.  Finishing in the top 10 was Philippine student team Opticode who developed an app that looks to change the way the visually impaired see the world.

Over the course of two days, young innovators from all over the world met in the company’s headquarter city of Redmond, Washington to show off months of hard work.

The grand prize?  A mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, a cash prize of $100,000, and of course, bragging rights.  This year’s winner was Team X.GLU from the Czech Republic who created an app for those with diabetes.

Representing the Philippines was the three-student team Opticode from Lyceum of the Philippines University – Laguna.  They chose to tackle challenges experienced by the visually impaired.

Opticode team members Christian Cepe, Jasmine Pearl Raymundo, and Rochel Reyes (all Bachelor of Science in Information Technology students), created Minerva — an app designed to help the visually impaired identify their surroundings through their smartphone.

Minerva finds a way to bring “sight” to those without, in a practical and extremely easy to use way.  All the user has to do is point his or her smartphone’s camera towards an object — as if taking a photo — and listen to the app give a description of what the object is.

It can identify almost anything including sceneries and landmarks, banknotes, colors, texts, human faces, weather information, and even barcodes to help describe products through labels.

The app was built using APIs from Microsoft Cognitive Services like its Computer Vision API that extracts information from images, its Face API which helps detect and identify faces, and its Emotion API which detects and captures facial expressions.

Driven by artificial intelligence (AI), Minerva can further be trained while getting better the more it’s used.

The app is also meant for international users and can be used in 25 different languages like  Chinese, English, Spanish, French, Japanese, and more.

Currently an Android app, Minerva has not yet rolled out for the general public, but those who’ve had the privilege of trying it out, have found it useful in their everyday lives.

“It’s really a big help for us students who need to read texts from books,” says one testimonial by Jorim, an Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration, and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired (ATRIEV) student, on the app’s website.

“We don’t need to always ask someone to dictate what’s written on our books.”

Another ATRIEV student testimony from Haver said, “I want to look nice whenever I go outside and as a blind person, it’s really difficult to distinguish the colors of my clothes.  Minerva is helping me identify the colors of my clothes.”

Filipinos have without a doubt dipped into the constantly changing tech scene, with Snapchat’s California born CTO Bobby Murphy being one of the most prominent at the moment.

Manny Ayala, an ex-media executive and banker turned internet entrepreneur, has been helping aspiring tech entrepreneurs in the Philippines through his tech incubator Hatch’d and organization Endeavor Philippines.

As for the young members of the Opticode team, Microsoft Philippines managing director Bertrand Launay shared encouraging words.

Launay said in a press statement, “This is a most impressive accomplishment for Team Opticode.  The Imagine Cup is the world’s most prestigious student tech competition and we’re extremely proud of the team for all they’ve accomplished.  A top 10 finish among 54 other teams from 39 countries in the World Finals shows that the Philippines can compete with the best in the world.”

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