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Imagine Cup: A cycle ends, another one begins 15/10/12

 

Hi everyone!

If you still haven’t heard of it, the Imagine Cup is a technology competition organized by Microsoft that challenges students to solve world problems with technology. With more than 350.000 registered students from more than 180 countries, this year’s competition in Australia marked the 10th anniversary of the competition.

My brother and I have been competing in this competition since we were in high school. We say that we grew up with the competition – so many participations have definitely helped to shape our professional and personal lives.

This year’s Imagine Cup was incredibly special for me. First, it marked my 7th participation in the competition (my brother’s 8th!). The finals were held in Sydney, an extraordinary city, and we competed in 4 different categories, our personal record. We were also very successful and got the world first place in three categories, as well as second place in the national Software Design finals.

Perhaps most importantly, this year’s Imagine Cup marked my last participation as a competitor (more on that in a moment). So I’d like to take this opportunity to close up these 8 years with my personal recap of our participations in the Imagine Cup, since 2005. Let’s start!

Imagine Cup 2005 Japan – Beginning

Our first participation in the Imagine Cup was completely by chance. Our father, Bruno, had read about some competition for students and told us about it, and we said “Why not?”

That year, we were both in high school (I was a senior, Eduardo was a freshman), so we decided to enter the competition in the Web Development High School invitational, part of a set of high school-exclusive categories that existed only in that year. Team Virtual Dreams was formed, for the first time ever!

When our father told us about the competition, the first deadline was already very close, something like one week away! We rushed to think about a project and write the first documents; we advanced for the next round and started developing the project when we were already on Round 2. In less than a month, we had a website that used all the crazy beta technologies (ASP.NET Whidbey Beta 2…) and we finally got 2nd place in that competition.

Right after we knew we were 2nd place, Rogerio Panigassi, back then the Academic lead at Microsoft Brazil, contacted us and invited us to come to the national Software Design finals. He put us in touch with the national SD champions after the finals, and we could not have imagined that one single phone call would be a start of a long friendship that resulted in future Imagine Cup teams and much more. That single visit to the Microsoft Brazil headquarters also started our long-lasting relationship with Microsoft Brazil, through which both Eduardo and I became Student Partners (MSPs) a few years later.

Unfortunately, in the high school categories only the 1st place would get a trip to the finals in Yokohama, so we stayed home that year. However, that only gave us more motivation for the following year…

Imagine Cup 2006 India – Challenge

Our planning for Imagine Cup 2006 started early. Knowing that we got so close to visiting Yokohama had us pumped up for the next challenge, and we chose a tough one – the Interface Design invitational.

This challenge invited us to build an interface that would improve people’s health using the latest and greatest technologies, Avalon and Sparkle (now known as WPF and Blend). These technologies were still in CTP (pre-alpha), so we had a hard time working with these new, undocumented, ever-changing platforms that were very rich and promising.

We really stood up to the challenge that year. We built TransplantAction (post in Portuguese), an interface that used all the features from those platforms, such as 3D and speech recognition, to build something that wowed the judges and brought us to the world finals in Agra and Delhi. What we didn’t know was that the real challenge was still coming.

In the world finals, we finally met our competition captain, Unni Ravindranathan, a very cool PM from the Expression Interactive Designer team (another name change before becoming Blend) to whom we had asked lots of questions about the new platforms and tools. He explained us our final challenge: we had to build an interface in 24 hours that would help save lives!

This challenge was amazing. We had incredible competitors that were building amazing projects, and we couldn’t think of what to build. We rethought and restarted our project at least 3 times in the 24 hours, and we only settled in our final idea when we had about 10 hours to go. We thought about a system that would help ambulance paramedics to communicate with their hospitals in order to better prepare them for what would come. We came up with an innovative menu system optimized for touch (tablets were all the rage back with the launch of Vista :) ), Eduardo created all the design assets and I developed non-stop for at least 7 or 8 hours.

Our final bet was the one that completely changed the outcome of the competition. In the last few hours, Eduardo and I decided to risk it all and implement speech recognition (a very unstable, pre-beta technology) on our interface. We built it in a matter of minutes and never tested it until our final presentation!

In the end, everything went great (speech worked!) and we were awarded the 1st prize in the competition. This year was also very special because we experienced the world finals for the first time, visited many incredible places and met some amazing people who are my best friends to this day.

We could have stopped back then, with lots of new friends and contacts and a first prize in hands, but somehow we knew we were getting addicted to the Imagine Cup…

Imagine Cup 2007 Korea – Persistence

In 2007 we wanted to go even higher. We decided to dream big and go for the Software Design competition. We wouldn’t come unprepared: we joined forces with previous SD national champions from Recife: Andre Furtado from 2005 (remember that phone call?) as well as Ivan Cardim and Carlos Rodrigues, who we met in person in 2006. A weird mash up of our original team names resulted in our team: Trivent Dreams (= Trivial Team + Solvent + Virtual Dreams).

We started thinking about that project early in the year. That was also the first time we had decided to compete in more categories as a “Plan B” in case our SD endeavor failed. We registered for the Embedded Development and the Web Development invitationals, and we developed our SD project to fit all the categories as best as possible.

The project itself was our biggest to date. We developed e-du, a fun educational system to help with children alphabetization, with a module for students with ink tablets that included multi-mouse games, a learning encyclopedia and a mechanical robot toy (Waldomiro); a module for teachers to create lessons and assess results; and a web module for sharing lessons with the world.

We had a very fun development cycle for that year. In the last week, the Recife part of our team came over to Sao Paulo and we developed the last few bits in an intensive environment at our home, with very little sleep and lots of rehearsal for the presentations.

The presentations in the Microsoft Brazil offices went great, but we had some amazing competition. We really didn’t know who would be the top 3, and we were happy to be 2nd place among those tough competitors.

But our Imagine Cup didn’t end there. The 2nd place only meant we had a lot of work to do if we wanted to advance to the world finals. We decided to focus on Embedded Development, and we shifted our efforts to a full port of the WPF-based system to the e-box, a Windows CE low cost device.

After lots of fighting with the Bluetooth drivers, a full rebuild of the toy robot, and a clever way to play animations and video on the e-box (that involved, among other things, a pre-renderer that would output animated GIFs), we had our system working. In a few weeks, the good news: we had qualified among the world finalists in Embedded Development!
When we arrived in Seoul, we first saw how tough the competitors were. Miraculous projects with robots, big devices with lots of cables, and even flying machines were among the roster of contestants for that year’s Embedded finals.

The key to our success was a big focus on the presentation. Lead by the “killer presenter” Andre, we spent countless hours preparing our pitches (one of the best PPT slides we had ever built) and we had a perfectly rehearsed presentation and demo, with fallbacks and “plan B’s” for everything.

The first presentation went amazing, as well as the first round of demos (a part of which failed, but our plan B worked great!). For the last round, we went with another risky bet: we decided to spend a full day to redo our presentation based on the judges’ feedbacks and questions.

That risky bet definitely paid off. Our final presentation feedback was stellar and we got 1st place in the competition!

Another incredible trip with even more long-lasting friendships, and some contacts among the judges and Microsoft staff that deeply affected our professional lives. But we hadn’t forgotten our Software Design dream…

Imagine Cup 2008 France – Dream

Our 2008 attack was straight for Software Design. We decided to join forces with another team of friends from past Imagine Cups to create Team Écologix: Renato Ferreira, a national finalist in the previous years, and Carlos Rodrigues from ’06 and ’07 once again.

We went with a crazy plan to create once more our largest and most complete project. Our megalomaniac solution was a social network that would help people report ecological problems in their cities. We would also help them find related problems and solutions from other cities, and we had an analysis system that allowed governments and NGOs to quickly see the problems and take action.

The project had modules for every platform we could think of: A web rich client, a mobile client for reporting problems, a digital TV system for news and alerts, and a desktop multi-touch analysis system that used low-cost homemade infrared pens and a Wii remote. With so many technologies, we decided to submit this project to the Interoperability Award as well.

The development of this project was definitely very challenging, and we had to split tasks very well in order to build it remotely. Once again, we had a blast on the last week when our Recife friends came over for the last sprint.
The national presentations went really well. We had a very solid solution and presentation that addressed every question the judges had, and we were national champions for the first time (Carlos for the 2nd time :) ).

The world finals in Paris were also an incredible trip. We were at a hotel right next to the Eiffel Tower, and for the first time we were sponsored by the Bradesco Bank, who supported us completely and took us over for some enjoyable nights out in the city. We were pleased to meet some of our old Imagine Cup friends again, who came back as competitors, mentors, judges or Microsoft staff.

Our first presentation rounds went smoothly – we had learned a lot from 2007 about how to improve our presentations in 2007. In a blink of an eye we were already on the world top 6, which turned out to be our toughest presentation ever.

The final presentation stage was at the Caroussel du Louvre, a beautiful venue right under the museum pyramid, and we had a setup time on the day before the presentation. The setup went really badly, since the stage was huge and we had a very delicate system with many moving parts besides the Wiimote, which required specific lighting conditions. In the end, we managed to set it all up, but we couldn’t predict that luck wouldn’t be with us that year.

The PPT part of our presentation went OK. When the demo started, we quickly saw that the demo gods weren’t helping! We had problems with everything, even the “plan B” and “C”: the internet connection failed, the web project crashed IE, even the microphone failed! When we came to the multi-touch system, the big lights on the stage messed up our Wiimote detection. And in the end, the final blow: I stepped at one of the projector cables that was on stage and the multi-touch demo went down.

That catastrophic presentation ended that year’s competition with a 4th place, yet we were very happy to see our friends from Australia come up first with their outstanding project SOAK. Our bet on the Interop award also gave us a 2nd place in that competition.

After that year’s Imagine Cup we were thinking about taking a break. I started studying in France and we didn’t know how my brother and I would collaborate remotely for so long if we were to build another project. But then I met a friend in France, and the addiction kicked back…

Imagine Cup 2009 Egypt – Rush

As soon as I started studying in France I met a great guy from Brazil, Bruno Reis, who was assigned as my “godfather” to help me get acquainted with the new school and city. He was also a fellow developer and geek, and we quickly became friends, developing many small projects together to solve our own school problems.

However, when the “Imagine Cup season” came, my brother and I started talking about the possibility of competing once more. I talked to Bruno about the idea, but we were completely busy with our school duties, and we didn’t think we’d be able to make it.

In the end I convinced Bruno to try for the Mashup competition, a smaller challenge that involved a fun tool called Popfly. That was a great candidate for one of our small projects, and we quickly came up with a set of Popfly blocks that helped people visualize and analyze world indicators.

Working on this first competition also sparked our enthusiasm to compete on Software Design once again! We developed that year’s project in a big rush, in the little time we found between our school assessments and classes. The project called HealthTag focused on enabling electronic medical records for people in remote locations, using a clever ID system with the Microsoft Tag, a smart caching and syncing system for areas without Internet, and a set of clients for desktops and mobile devices. We also had another client that enabled analysis of anonymous data using a touchless interaction device that cost less than fifty cents.

That project had the extra challenge of having the team in two time zones 5 hours apart. Sometimes we had a non-stop sprint, in which we started in France, sent our work to Eduardo in Brazil, went to sleep and woke up before he had gone to bed. That year was also the first time our father joined the team officially as mentor.

The preparation for the national finals was also very fast, and for the first time we had to develop a video as part of our submission. We finished the video on the very last day, and we eventually qualified for the finals. I came back to Brazil especially for the finals, and my brother and I executed our rehearsed presentation very well, convincing the judges to give us the ticket to Cairo!

In the meantime, our Mashup project was also doing great, and we were qualified as world finalists (top 6) in that competition as well.

Our trip to Cairo was a blast. We had a lot of fun visiting the city, and we met some old and new friends from even more countries this time around. The Software Design presentations were going well, and we even had the chance to demo the project to Ray Ozzie, who really liked the touchless input system. We were qualified as top 12, and then top 6 for Software Design.

But on the very last day before our final presentation we had another turn of events: all three of us became very sick, and we were in bed the whole day, incapable of even walking. We were very worried, since we thought it would be impossible to present in such condition. We weren’t able to work more on our presentation, and we would have to settle with what we had presented in the other rounds.

In the end, about an hour before the presentation, we got some energy (no one knows where from) and managed to stand up and go present. Somehow, we managed to perform surprisingly well – it was one of our best presentations that year! Right after our presentation ended, we almost fell down and had to be helped back to our room. A couple of days later we were feeling better and ready for the final awards and party.

The award ceremony was something to remember. A beautiful, huge stage in front of the Pyramids! We finally received the 4th place in the Mashup competition and the 3rd place in the Software Design competition, our personal best. In the end, a surprise award: we got 1st place on the unannounced Windows Mobile Award, along with the Croatian and the Indonesian teams, and got brand new HTC Touch Pro 2 phones as the prize.

That year was intense and I needed a break. The following year, Bruno came back to Brazil and I was full of work to do with my final project in France. Eduardo, on the other hand, was invited by some of his Imagine Cup friends from Recife to join them in another competition…

Imagine Cup 2010 Poland – Separation

2010 was the only year I didn’t compete in the Imagine Cup since I started. Eduardo joined with Lucas Mello, Daniel Ferreira, Edmiel Leandro and Hugo Rodrigues to form team Uptiva Dreams IT (another crazy mash up name: UP + Proativa + Virtual Dreams). Their project – Biorider – was a solution to help reduce pollution through a ride share system that connected to the social networks. They competed on the Interoperability Challenge and got back with the 2nd place.

Eduardo told me he had an awesome time in Poland. I don’t have much to say about that year’s competition, since I only followed from afar; all I can say is that the temporary break didn’t stop our reunion on the following year…

Imagine Cup 2011 USA – Reunion

As I came back to Brazil in the end of 2010, I had to catch up with many things. It was my last year in the university, and I had to develop my graduation project besides having to complete some of the toughest subjects in my diploma.

We only started thinking about the Imagine Cup very late in the process, a few weeks before the first deadlines. We decided to try again for the Software Design competition, but we had no idea of what to build. We also decided to learn a new technology again and go for the Orchard Challenge, a competition that asked us to build a plugin for the Orchard CMS that could help the world.

We started developing our Orchard project first, and that project is among those I’m most proud of. We created a plugin called ChangeThis! that analyses blog posts and suggests readers with related charities for them to donate and help improve their situation. This project had a beautiful design (thanks Eduardo!) and it’s our first Imagine Cup project that shipped – you can use it right now. The project is also open source, so feel free to use it, improve it, and port it to other platforms.

This project ultimately got 2nd place, and only the 1st place would travel to New York for the finals. We still had our Software Design project to build, but not much time now.

Our Software Design project was developed in a rush and we weren’t very confident it would go far. The idea was great, but the execution required much more time. We didn’t qualify for the national finals, but that idea eventually became our most successful project ever…

Imagine Cup 2012 Australia – Closing

This year’s Imagine Cup was the best closure possible for the fabulous years we had before.

Eduardo and I formed the team, and our father joined again as mentor. We decided early to do our best and build on our ideas from the previous Imagine Cup. The project was definitely our boldest: a full-blown in-class education platform that tried to solve many tough problems we felt when we were in high school and college. The system, Eureka!, was comprised of client applications for all platforms (tablets, desktops, phone, web and Kinect) tied together by a cloud backend that allowed lessons to be shared seamlessly and presented in sync in all devices. We also did what I think is the best UI design we ever created in the Imagine Cup, with tailored interfaces for each device that made lessons more fun and engaging for students, yet very easy for teachers to create.

In true “closing” spirit, we decided to compete in 5 different categories: Software Design, Windows Metro, Windows Azure, Kinect Fun Labs and Windows Phone! This was our biggest Imagine Cup challenge ever, since we were only two members in the team, and besides developing the project and all the clients, we had to create videos and documents for each category!

We had some very tough months with hard work, heated discussions and new technologies to learn (Azure, and each new build of Windows 8…), but at the end of the day, we delivered the project for the national Software Design finals together with our best video and all the other documents. We highlighted our design decisions on our detailed Windows Metro and Azure category entries, and we built a special video for each category out of our main SD video. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish the documents and video for the Phone challenge on time.

The Kinect project was something else by itself. The project, Fusion4D, is a system to interact with educational 3D models as if they were floating in the air. This project was a spinoff of my graduation project, developed with Keila Matsumura and Prof. Romero Tori as mentor. Knowing that it would be a great candidate for the Imagine Cup, we decided to join forces again and build the Interlab team, putting together the graduation project team and my brother as designer.

The development of that project was also incredibly challenging. Our graduation project had been developed with WPF and it was very limited, serving as a proof-of-concept prototype of the technology; on the other hand, the Imagine Cup category asked us to use Unity3D to create a consumer-ready gadget that they could use in their living room.

So I had to learn this new technology (which was thankfully stable, easy and fun to develop with) and port the whole project, while expanding its features and redesigning it for the living room scenario. We ended up adding a completely new interaction mode and creating a full tutorial system, besides being able to integrate speech recognition and other advanced Kinect functionalities on the project.
Our projects were ready and shipped for judging right before the national SD finals. Those finals were incredibly tough, with great projects and a large panel of judges. We did our best and we received excellent feedback, ending up 2nd place, very happy to have visited the national capital Brasilia and hopeful we’d still go to Sydney with our 3 other entries.

A few weeks later the results started coming: we were selected as top 3 in both the Metro and Azure challenges! A few more weeks and came the cherry in the sundae: the Kinect project was also selected for the world finals!

There we went to Sydney with our best achievement since we started our Imagine Cup journey – three guaranteed top 3 prizes, and no more presentations in the world finals. For the first time, we finally had a full week of vacation at the world finals!

And what a week that was. We had a lot of time to meet new friends and enjoy the city, and we had such a great time! I’d like to thank especially this year’s amazing competition captains Jura Clapman, Dan Waters and Nick Harris, as well as some people who made it all happen on the backstage: Ali Driesman and Andrea Harrison, as well as Marinês Gomes from Brazil. We also had the opportunity to meet some past alumni after many years, like Sally and Ignacio from Korea’07 and Long and Ed who won back in France’08. So great to see the amazing stuff they’re building!

We had the chance to present our project to many people who gave us great feedback, including Microsoft execs like Soma, Walid, Ashwin and Moorthy.

The week went by incredibly fast, and the final award ceremony came quickly. The ceremony was held at the Sydney Convention Centre, and it had some of the coolest visuals I’ve ever seen in any presentation. The displays were HUGE and the whole lighting system changed whenever the presenter changed, resulting in an immersive™ experience like which I’ve never seen.

We were extremely excited for this apotheosis moment in the week – at the very least we knew we would be getting third place in each category. And every time they announced one of our categories, the same tension came: they announced the third place first, and then when they announced the 2nd place we would know who had won.

And our name was never announced as 2nd! We crowned our participation in the Imagine Cup with 3 first places, doubling our 1st place count and breaking all the records in the competition.


This year’s Imagine Cup opened so many amazing opportunities for us. Both projects had wonderful feedback and visibility and we are working towards releasing them. Our cycle as Imagine Cup competitors is over…

What’s next – a special announcement

“What comes next?” you might ask. Eduardo is about to graduate from UNICAMP, and I have just graduated from USP. But today I have another special announcement to make: I’m joining Microsoft as a Software Development Engineer! I’ve just moved to Seattle to work on the Visual Studio team. If you happen to be around (Microsofties or for BUILD/MVP Summit) let me know!

I’d like to close up with very special thanks to everyone that helped, supported and cheered me on my journey. I won’t list everyone (it wouldn’t fit a post twice as large as this!) but I’d like to mention all my friends, old and new, from Brazil, France and all over the world; the Microsoft staff and sponsors that gave us this amazing opportunity; my teammates and mentors from each year, true friends and partners with whom I’m proud to have worked; and of course, my family, essential part of my team every year. Big thanks to my brother, remarkable designer and dedicated partner since the first Imagine Cup, Eduardo!

So that’s it! This cycle ends for me, and another big one is starting. Will you see me in St. Petersburg next year? I wouldn’t bet on it, but you never know…

Roberto

PS: The tally

This is our combined “scorecard” after those eight great years of hard work, passion, crazy technologies, amazing travels and long-lasting friendships!

Categories: Imagine Cup, Microsoft, Novidades  

Comments»

1. Kadu Rodrigues - 15/10/12

First! :D

This is sooooo awesome. Thanks for the amazing experiences we shared, buddy :)

2. Qasim Ikram - 17/10/12

Wow….. You guys already are and will be some kind of legends in Imagine Cup. Great story.

3. Paul - 28/1/13

Hi, I’ve just downloaded the Visual Studio 3D StarterKit and looking forward to learning more.

Congratulations and what a journey ! no wonder the VS team wanted you on board.

Best wishes for future success.

Paul

4. JiaChiun Ker - 14/2/13

Roberto, Eduardo!
You guys are LEGENDDDD!!
Was so thrilled reading your Imagine Cup journey and congratz!!
Hope we can meet again in St. Petersburg this year haha!
All the best :)

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