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2 August, 2012  ▪  Valeria Burlakova

Kitchen Masterpiece

The year’s top student innovation project was created in the kitchen of a Donetsk apartment

This year, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, one of the biggest international student technology competitions, celebrated its 10th anniversary. Over 350 students from 75 countries participated in the finals in Sydney, Australia. An international jury selected the Ukrainian team for first prize. Anton Pasternikov, Maksym Osyka, Valeriy Yasakov and Anton Stepanov, all students of the Donetsk branch of the “Step” Computer Academy, took first place in the Software Design competition.

Their team is called QuadSquad, alluding to their team of four. The device they presented at Imagine Cup is called Enable Talk. As the name suggests, the invention allows people with hearing and speech disorders to speak. The four students designed special gloves that turn gestures into speech.

The gloves contain built-in sensors, including an accelerometer, a gyroscope and even a compass. This allows the software to monitor their position in space and sense the bending of fingers, while transmitting this data to a cell phone. Special software designed by the Ukrainian team converts the data into a sound signal that creates the new electronic voice of the owner. The glove’s solar battery keeps it working longer.

“We know how hard it is for people with hearing and speech disabilities because some of our friends have them,” the winners said of their motivation. “We thought about how we could help them. That’s why we worked on this social project.”

It took them nearly six months to create Enable Talk. Their masterpiece was created in the kitchen of a team member’s apartment, where they spent long nights constructing elements of the gloves.

Before going to Australia, the four students won the national finals in Kyiv in April 2012. Since then, they have been confident that it would work out. “We all believe in our team, and that this project has every chance to unite innovative technology in microelectronics and powerful Windows operating systems to make the world better not only for people with hearing and speech disabilities, but for all of us,” Anton Stepanov said after their victory in Kyiv.

Still, he remains humble. After his team’s international victory he says that the gloves are just a prototype and are not ready for commercial use. They still need some upgrades before people can actually use them in everyday life. According to their estimates, the cost of the glove would be very affordable – $75.

They also admit that the competition was tough. “We had no spare time in Australia because we had to prepare well for the presentation of our project,” the winners say. “But we couldn’t help but notice the inventions of other contestants.”

Anton Stepanov’s favourite projects come from Japan and Portugal, and ended up in second and third place, respectively. The Japanese team presented an energy-saving project that enables smart control of interior lighting. The team from Portugal, like QuadSquad from Ukraine, also presented a project that made life easier for disabled people. They designed a robot that would help people in wheelchairs move their luggage, controlling the personal carrier with gestures.

The winners believe that Ukraine has many more young and talented inventors. And it’s not the lack of funding, time or some illusionary obstacles that stand in their way. “Most people just have no idea about these competitions,” the winners claim. 

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