Fuelling technology innovations for social good

Team Hollo, Winners of Imagine Cup 2020

For nearly two decades, students from around the world have participated in Microsoft’s global technology competition, the Imagine Cup, to bring their unique tech solutions to life.

According to Jennifer Ritzinger, General Manager, Audience Evangelism, Microsoft, the competition “empowers the next generation of developers to explore, experiment and create by providing no-cost access to industry-leading technologies, like Microsoft Azure.”

“In addition to Azure credits and the opportunity to win cash prizes, the teams selected to advance receive coaching from Microsoft mentors to help the teams refine their project, finesse their pitch, and receive technology and business plan guidance,” she continues.

The entries for 2020 touched on topics such as the environment, ethical AI, accessibility, agriculture, education, and healthcare, with an overarching focus on inclusivity. “In addition, their innovations aim to address issues in their communities and are focused on bringing the world together,” says Ritzinger.

2020 Winners: Team Hollo

The winners of the Imagine Cup 2020, Team Hollo, had noticed that mental health aid was not effectively reaching the younger generations in their communities and envisioned a future of tech-based, accessible, and comprehensive personal health management tools.

According to the team, their app and product is based on the need for a model that reflects and caters to the different experience each patient has of mental health. “Hence, we advocated for the importance of adopting AI and Machine Learning which would allow us to identify these differences and react accordingly,” they said.

Using data points obtained through the users’ first screening and check in, the team’s solution uses AI and machine learning to map out symptoms and create predictive models to understand the risks and potential relapses of patients.

From this data, the app provides a user-friendly tool that helps users gauge their mental health and well-being through clear visuals and suggests to them actionable steps. This allows them to seek the appropriate measures, be it self-care or professional help.

Screenshots from Team Hollo’s App

The solution also provides data to a network of NGOs and counsellors, alerting them of potential high-risk cases without breaching privacy. As a result, the app potentially facilitates the relationships between NGOs, therapists and users by allowing them digitally transform their standard case management practice. NGOs and counsellors thereby benefit from effective monitoring and alerting of changes in their client’s day to day status, as well as a streamlined administrative process.

The app is currently running pilot programs with therapists and NGOs in Hong Kong, and their recent Imagine Cup win has generated further interest by NGOs in using and testing the product. Future directions include collaborating with insurance companies as well as helping corporations manage employee well-being programs.

2020 Runner-up: Team Syrinx

The runner up team, Team Syrinx,also leverages cutting edge technology to fulfil a social need. The Syrinx device is a neck wearable EL (electrolarynx) device that leverages Azure Notebooks technology. It channels vibrations that restore speaking capabilities to people who have lost their voice.

According to the team, the solution uses voice processing tools to generate the vibration patterns from user uploaded recordings of their lost voice. Neural networks then learn the characteristics of the lost voice in order to restore it.

“This allows Syrinx to produce a more natural sounding human voice through the device, catering to both male and female voice patterns,” says the team. Their hands-free device is an improvement on existing technology which requires users to press on it when speaking, and creates a robot-like voice. These cause social and communication issues for the user.

Participation in the Imagine cup has allowed the team, still in university, to showcase their innovation to a wider community of users and therapists. The team also holds workshops for people who have lost their voice along with their therapists or throat doctors to share their project with them.  

As the winning team, Team Hollo will receive USD100,000, a mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and a USD50,000 Azure Grant.