A group of graduate students from the Department of Computer Science has won a $10,000 award in the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a year-long international competition that culminated with world finals in St. Petersburg, Russia last week.
Team SANO — students from professor Reda Alhajj’s computer science research group in the Faculty of Science — developed SANO, the first interactive system that monitors your health while you sit in front of your computer or mobile device for long periods of time. A 3D virtual trainer appears on the screen and asks the user to mimic exercises.
This is the first time a team from the University of Calgary has entered the event. Students Omar Zaarour, Omar Addam, Tamer Jarada, and Fatemeh Keshavarz were among 87 student teams from 71 countries to vie for more than $1 million in cash and prizes. Earlier this year, two teams from the research group of professor Alhajj (Team SANO and Team YouSave) were among the three finalists in the local competition in Canada, which attracted more than 700 projects.
Team SANO won the KFC Russia Award, which includes a $10,000 cash prize as well as showcasing the project in KFC’s flagship restaurant in Moscow. The plan is to have SANO extended with more capabilities and have it permanently used by KFC customers.
“We were sitting there, nervous, thinking ‘We will get it, we won’t get it, we will get it,’ you can never tell and suddenly they said ‘Team SANO from Canada’ and we started shouting,” says Addam. “We went to the stage and it was very, very nice, very exciting."
“Being selected from teams all over the world, the best teams, is such an amazing feeling. I cannot express how happy the team is now," says teammate Zaarour.
Team SANO was supported by Alberta Innovates and mentored by professor Alhajj. “We are happy and excited that in the first participation of the University of Calgary, we made it to represent Canada. And in our first experience participating in the world finals, Team SANO got the KFC award,” says Alhajj. “Thanks to the University of Calgary, Alberta Innovates and Microsoft Canada for the great support at various stages of the competition.”
Susan Ibach from Microsoft Canada, who traveled with Team SANO to Russia, says: “Whenever a presenter walks on stage to announce the winner of a category, there is a hush shortly followed by a few screams as the winning team realizes they have just been called to the stage. Of course when Team SANO from Canada was announced, there were screams from the balcony as well, I was more than a little excited!”
Question: What are you going to do with the money?
Team: We will use the $10,000 to improve the project further by incorporating more functions and to make it more entertaining to end-users. We already have great ideas and a well defined future plan, for which we will need the money, the time and the effort. This award has motivated us to work harder and to continue shooting high.
Question: What will happen with SANO now?
Team: SANO will be featured at the KFC flagship store in Moscow. SANO will be developed further, customized and expanded. The team from KFC is really excited about Team SANO’s work. They can’t wait to start working with the team! We expect to develop a long-term relationship with KFC that will mostly lead to a customized version of SANO as a software which will entertain KFC customers the most.