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UH Hilo Imagine Cup finalists return from Russia

UH Hilo Team Poli`ahu (L-R): Wallace Hamada, Mike Purvis, Ryder Donahue, and Kayton Summers pose in front of their booth at the 11th worldwide Imagine Cup in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo courtesy of UH Hilo)

UH Hilo Team Poli`ahu (L-R): Wallace Hamada, Mike Purvis, Ryder Donahue, and Kayton Summers pose in front of their booth at the 11th worldwide Imagine Cup in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo courtesy of UH Hilo)

Roya Sabri | Hawaii 24/7 Reporter

Almost two months after winning the May 13 Imagine Cup Finals Demo Day in Silicon Valley, the University of Hawaii at Hilo team P’oli Ahu flew to the St. Petersburg, Russia, for the 2013 Worldwide Finals. From July 8 to 11, the quartet of computer scientists represented the United States and Hawaii on the international stage.

The Imagine Cup is recognized as the premier student innovation competition. This year’s competition drew 87 student teams from 71 countries that competed for more than $1 million in cash and prizes.

In Russia, P’oli Ahu pitched their idea for the emergency response application: “Help me Help.” Once distributed, the application will cloud source images and information from civilians experiencing repercussion of large-scale disasters. That data will be accessible to organizations like the Civil Defense for prioritization and response.

“It has been great to see UH Hilo students recognized as some of the best in the world,” Dr. Harry Keith Edwards, faculty advisor, said.  “The U.S. national championship and our participation in the world finals demonstrate that students at UH Hilo receive a quality education and can compete with the best in the world.”

Team Poli`ahu competed against more than 30 other teams in the Innovation category. The team competed against finalists from China, Japan, Korea, Russia, Slovenia, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom’s team captured top honors with their mobile phone application, SoundSYNK. SoundSYNC establishes impromptu social network by connecting phones through Bluetooth. Second place went to team DORA of Slovenia; third went to team MYRA of Thailand.

Though the four-member computer programming team returned to Hilo without official recognition, they gained experience and connections. Purvis said projects from the 86 teams were just as sophisticated and creative as those in the US finals.

The UH Hilo team saw as much excitement on the streets of St. Petersburg as within the walls of the competition. St. Petersburg was as alive with the White Nights Festival.

During summer St. Petersburg remains light until about 2 a.m. followed by a couple of hours of “not sunlight.” Purvis said the warmth and light of summer attracted young rollerbladers to the midnight streets.

During the day, the team kept busy with presentations. Purvis was impressed with the range of pitches. But he said “Help me Help” was one of the only immediately applicable ideas.

Since their return, the team has spent hours building their network from the competition. Purvis said they don’t regret anything. They represented Hawaii well from idea to implementation to presentation. And they’re “on track to move forward.”

The team is working with the Office of Mauna Kea to launch its invasive species cloud-sourcing application — the inspiration for the larger-scale “Help me Help.” The application cloud sources images of invasive species from hikers. Purvis said the pilot implementation is small enough to leave room for adjustment. Though, he doubts there will be any problems.

P’oli Ahu has met with the Hawaii Civil Defense (HCD) twice. But before they finalize plans, P’oli Ahu hopes to translate the code to iOS—Apple’s mobile operating system.

Though the iPhone’s international market share is only about 20%, Hawaii residents tend to buy iPhones. In an attempt to cater to Hawaii’s audience, P’oli Ahu connected with a “superstar iPhone programmer.” They will meet with him for a weekend “code jam.”

P’oli Ahu is focusing on county and state implementation at this point. But since their national debut, other doors have opened. Recently, a White House Fellow connected to FEMA contacted the team for a presentation.

Purvis said, “We’re going to be able to stand out more than other graduates now.”

He stressed the importance of his participation in extra curricular activities during his college career and advised students not to, “be afraid to put a pause on academics to do extracurriculars.”

He said what students do outside of the classroom can make the most difference in how they perform in the real world. With only one more class left for his undergraduate degree, Purvis is already contributing to the evolution of disaster response. Students can use P’oli Ahu’s success as a case in point.

 

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