Student Success

Microsoft Imagine Cup experience opening doors for U of L students

They didn’t get a meeting with Bill Gates, but what Team claVision did bring away from the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition may prove to be much more valuable.

Team claVision, consisting of Hossein Naseri, left, Mohammad Akbari and mentor Dr. Howard Cheng, are preparing to go to market with their revolutionary software.

Mohammad Akbari and Hossein Naseri, under the supervision of mentor Dr. Howard Cheng of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, were the Canadian representatives and one of just 11 teams to qualify for the World Finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition in July. And while their innovative software program that utilizes video to capture a person’s hands as they play piano and converts it into sheet music did not garner the championship prize, it certainly earned attention from some key contacts – which bodes well for its future commercial development.

“We had some very successful demonstration sessions and our technology impressed many people, including professionals as well as reporters in both computer- and music-related industries,” says Akbari, who started the project as his master’s thesis and through the competition, was able to turn theory into practice and create a usable and marketable product. “I think getting familiar with the potential market of our product and making a good number of contacts are the main positives that we took away from this competition.”

Those in the music industry quickly understood the potential practical applications of Team claVision’s software product. Akbari says the project itself evolved throughout the various stages of the competition as the team advanced to the World Finals.

“In terms of the technical side, we have significantly improved the accuracy, speed and compatibility of our software under different conditions. In addition, based on the judges’ feedback from the previous rounds, as well as the useful tips from different professionals, we worked on the marketing side of the product to provide a feasible business plan to convey the target market of our software,” says Akbari. “Currently, we are about to start our own company to get our product to the market as soon as possible. It was really great to attract professionals such as Bill Buxton (prominent computer scientist, designer and principal researcher at Microsoft Research) to our project. We are now keeping in touch with many of them to consider their useful advice and experience to get our project to the market and achieve our goals much faster.”

That a pure research project and master’s thesis could so readily translate to a marketable product is testament to the experiential learning opportunities available to U of L students.

“It was good to see that this work was appreciated not just by academics but by practitioners in the music and computer industry as well,” says Cheng, who has worked to assist a number of students in competitions such as Imagine Cup. “I think the U of L is unique in that, despite our size compared to the other big universities, we often perform very well in these competitions. In addition to being the Canadian representative at the Microsoft Imagine Cup, we were one of only two Canadian universities to advance to the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest World Finals. I really believe that our smaller program allows faculty to have a more personal approach to encourage our top students to participate in these competitions. Having our students showcase their talents on the world stage is something that I am quite proud of.”

As for Akbari and Naseri, Imagine Cup has opened up a host of opportunities.

“There is a huge potential market for our novel technology,” says Akbari. “We are very interested in utilizing this technology in order to develop different software products based on a variety of applications, both professional and educational.”