Canadian start-up, featuring a Pakistani, wins Microsoft contest

It has developed a prosthetic arm that uses artificial intelligence


Usman Hanif July 28, 2018
"Technology has spread all around the world and the ambition to do amazing things with technology is increasingly being democratised and that is what really is fantastic," remarked Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. PHOTO:FILE

SEATTLE: Confetti littered the stage as a Canadian start-up, comprising Pakistani and Bangladeshi-origin members, was declared winner of the Imagine Cup organised by technology giant Microsoft that invited contestants from all over the world who had developed innovative solutions to the most pressing and long-standing problems of mankind.

"Technology has spread all around the world and the ambition to do amazing things with technology is increasingly being democratised and that is what really is fantastic," remarked Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella referring to the 49 teams from 33 countries that participated in the 16th annual Imagine Cup contest. The Canadian start-up called SmartARM had a two-member team that included Hamayal Choudhry from Pakistan and Samin Khan from Bangladesh.

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Another Pakistani named Adeel represented a Taiwanese start-up team that made it to the semifinals of the contest. "Pakistani students should apply for Taiwan universities; there are lots of opportunities, but there is very little awareness of them in Pakistan," Adeel said.

Pakistani start-up Fe Amaan had also reached the semi-finals which had come up with a healthcare solution for pregnant women, particularly those living in rural areas that lack immediate access to doctors and hospitals. It has made a belt for monitoring the condition of pregnant women and their baby by using artificial intelligence and Internet of Things. The device, which can be controlled remotely, can prove useful in Pakistan which has a very high mother and child mortality rate.

The Canadian team, which won the contest, presented a prosthetic arm that used artificial intelligence. It has a built-in camera in the palm that takes 3D picture of an object and assesses the grip the arm needs to hold the object.

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Then the disabled person, by flexing his or her muscle, can order the artificial arm to hold the object. "Try to imagine someone has lost an arm and wants to interact with the world; it is impossible to even imagine," said Samin Khan, a third-year Computer Science student at the University of Toronto.

"Artificial arms are present in the market, but they are very expensive or without functionality," said Hamayal Choudhry, a second-year Mechatronics Engineering student at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. The winning team is going to receive a cash prize of $85,000 along with $50,000 in Azure grant. It will also have a one-on-one mentoring session with the Microsoft CEO.

The runner-up will get $15,000 in cash prize and $40,000 in Azure grant while the holder of third position will receive only $30,000 in Azure grant. Big themes of this year's contest were artificial intelligence, big data and mixed reality - the three areas which Pakistan's government is also trying to promote.

Ignite - a government's funding initiative - gives admissions to start-ups in National Incubation Centres considering these themes, but mostly Pakistan students are not yet capable of making use of these new technologies. "This year, the number of projects dealing with artificial intelligence is 40% higher than the previous year," said Charlotte Yarkoni, Corporate Vice President of Azure Growth and Ecosystems while speaking to the media. Azure is a cloud computing platform and service designed by Microsoft.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2018.

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