Consider the world’s toughest problems and imagine them being solved by technology. Imagine the technology we use daily, such as our mobile devices, software and gaming systems, aimed to address issues like disease, famine and pollution.

This image brought together hundreds of students in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, a science and technology competition focused on creating solutions for the world’s problems. (Microsoft and the Imagine Cup are clients of Airfoil.) The most innovative minds in the country gathered this past month in Redmond, Wash. I had the privilege to speak with some of these bright young minds and hear the inspiration behind many of their technology projects.

One team successfully utilized Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 and developed an application to act as a portable microscope capable of detecting and diagnosing malaria. Team LifeLens is composed of students from Harvard School of Business who configured a mobile camera to produce time and cost efficient diagnoses through a snapshot of a patient’s blood sample.

In a recent article “Grad students detect malaria with phones” that appeared in Central Florida Future online, team member Tristan Gibeau stated: “I personally wanted to do this project because I wanted to apply my knowledge, my experience, what I know in general to be able to help someone other than myself. I wanted to provide people in need real, accurate results.” The LifeLens project has 90 percent accuracy compared to current tests averaging only 40 percent. With malaria mortality rates increasing and largely affecting children under the age of five, this solution provides accurate, real-time results at a substantially low cost.

Another project set to create positive change was developed by a group of students from Arizona State University. Team Note-Taker has created technology to help visually impaired students take notes.

The project was inspired by a team member, who is legally blind. Like many other low-vision students, David Hayden was having difficulty keeping up during class while taking notes from the blackboard. By using a custom-designed portable camera, a touch-screen Tablet PC and Microsoft OneNote, Team Note-Taker was able to project blackboard images to help low-vision students effectively take notes.

The Imagine Cup is one way Microsoft is helping students of today prepare for the jobs of tomorrow. What I find most remarkable is in the process, these students are taking their knowledge to help rid the world of the problems and help those that need it most. Through their imaginations they are transforming today’s technology to benefit the future.  

— Lindsay Karpinskas is an account coordinator at Airfoil Public Relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.