An epic win for New Zealand innovation

I wrote a while ago about Team One Beep, the group of University of Auckland students who had come up with an innovative way to send data out to remote areas using a sliver of FM radio spectrum.

Well, late last week we heard that Team One Beep took out third place at the final of the Image Cup in Warsaw. Wired has details of all the winners.

Let me put this achievement in perspective – 325,000 students from over 100 countries entered the competition. Yes, that’s 325,000 as in more than a quarter of a million people! And this team of guys makes it into the top 3 teams in the world. It’s a bit like the All Whites making it to the play-off for 3rd and 4th places at the soccer World Cup.

As a judge of the initial elimination round for the New Zealand Imagine Cup I think we chose well!

But actually, the decision was very easy. Team One Beep blew everyone else out of the water back in the preliminary round which meant that they were a sitter to progress to Poland.

What was it about them that make them so good? Well, they had it all – a big picture, altruistic goal to improve education in poor countries by bridging the digital divide. Their solution was incredibly simple but effective. It leveraged off an existing programme aimed at poor countries – the One Laptop Per Child programme. The team presented with clarity and passion and were incredibly professional.

This is the mix of ingredients that makes up for a winning entry into the Imagine Cup. These guys will go far, and according to Microsoft they are already working on rolling out their One Beep solution:

Back in New Zealand the team will continue to develop the software in hopes of bringing it to market. Vinny and the team are working with Oxfam, OLPC and governments around the world to make bring this software to countries around the globe, helping improve education in impoverished countries.

Just finally, I’d like to address a bit of an argument that sprung up in the comments related to my last post on One Beep. One commenter was outraged that Team One Beep were getting publicity through the Imagine Cup for something which he claimed was not a new concept. Well sure, people have been sending data over radio spectrum for a long time and the physics and applications behind this are well known. But the combination of the transmission, the use of the OLPCs and the clever software written to translate the signal into text for people to read is what makes this a great solution.

It is one thing to be first with an idea, its another thing entirely to get momentum for the idea so it can be put into use. Team One Beep have managed to do that. That is the primary output of being innovative and is exactly what we need to be encouraging young scientists, engineers and technologists to do.

More on Team One Beep and the Imagine Cup for news and information.



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