By Noimot Olayiwola/Staff Reporter
A team of four Qatar University third-year computer science and computer engineering students emerged as the Qatar champions at Microsoft Imagine Cup Qatar 2013.
Latifa Talal al-Naimi, Amna Khalid al-Kaabi, Mariam Ali Bahameish and Rahma Saleh Ali, who made up Team QSpark, said that they spent three months to develop the app that provides a way to virtually interact with exhibits in museums through the use of Microsoft’s Kinect sensor. Their project was titled ARTOUCH.
The team mentored by Qatar University faculty member Dr Osama Halabi beat four other projects by students of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and Texas A&M University at Qatar during the event, which is described as the world’s most prestigious student technology competition.
The five competing projects were shortlisted from an approximately 470 registrations.
Now in its eleventh year, Imagine Cup 2013 gave students in Qatar the opportunity to bring their technology ideas to life with Microsoft’s resources and support.
The teams presented their ideas - ranging from technologies to help the disabled to managing airport queues and reducing food waste - to a panel of judges that included industry experts from Microsoft, Qatar Petrochemical Company (Qapco), Emirates Group, ictQatar and Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI).
The competition, held for the second year in Qatar, was hosted by Khalid Aboujassoum, winner of Qatar Foundation’s Stars of Science 2012. Being the Qatar champions, Team QSpark will represent the country in the worldwide finals scheduled for July in St Petersburg, Russia, for an opportunity to present their project in front of an expert audience and win over $300,000 in prizes.
“Our idea for the project comes from what we observe when people visit museums and are not allowed to touch exhibits because the items are expensive and priceless…that (touching) will damage them. So, we came up with the idea that enables viewers to virtually touch the device by using the optic device that pushes back forces,” al-Naimi said on the sidelines of a press conference yesterday.
“We use a Kinect camera to create a three-dimensional video (3D) on the computer. We then use the optic device that does the calculations between the 3D image and what is represented on the screen. Using these calculations, it will push the forces back to the users, who feel something is pushing back when they try to touch an object,” she exxplained.
Al-Naimi said the app, when used in museums, would allow users to interact with the objects there by moving the optic device. “Users can also feel different types of roughness and texture, as is felt when one actually touches an object.” Before leaving for Russia, she said, the team has plans to enhance the speed of the app and add different textures to the 3D force fields in order to better demonstrate the different textures of objects.
“We are also planning to add 3D sound, something that represents the object in a 3D space depending on where the visitor is standing in relation to the object,” al-Naimi said. “We are passionate about our ideas and are already feeling successful on being the winners here in Qatar. We hope to see the app win in Russia and become commercialised worldwide. We truly believe that our idea will perfectly fit in for what they are planning for Qatar in its National Vision plan.”
Al-Naimi said while not having a background in the graphics field is a limitation, the team hopes to make up for that through self-reading and improving on the technology.
Speaking at the press conference, Microsoft country manger Naim Yazbeck congratulated the winning team, saying: “Qatar’s talented students have a strong track record at the Imagine Cup and will continue to make Qatar proud in St Petersburg. The finals will give them the opportunity to share their ideas among the best young programmers, technologists and designers in the world. We hope the Imagine Cup will continue to inspire the next generation of technology and business innovators in Qatar and the region.”
Qapco vice-chairman and chief executive officer Dr Mohamed al-Mulla said, “I am pleased that Qapco had the opportunity to become the national sponsor and is proud to be associated with the great competition. It complements our innovative strategy to engage and attract young students from local universities and colleges ,and will enhance the Qapco brand in this very important sector.”
Imagine Cup 2013 comprised three competition tiers: games, innovation and world citizenship.
As the sponsor of the innovation category of Imagine Cup in Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, the Emirates Group will award the winning students in the category with a special prize.