Students who were inspired by a notorious stretch of roadway on their doorstep to design a road safety device, which scooped the prestigious award this year by winning the top prize at the Microsoft Imagine Cup, hope to see motorists using their product within a year.
The invention uses technology to monitor erratic driving, and will alert vehicle owners, including parents and fleet managers, if their car is being driven dangerously.
The IT Sligo students beat 350,000 students from 183 countries, to win the Microsoft Imagine Cup in New York during the summer. This was the first time the competition was won by Irish students.
One of the team is continuing to develop the product and in a major breakthrough has just been allocated a place on the prestigious Startup Bootcamp’s Accelerator programme for start-up technology companies in Ireland.
“The programme will last for three months and provides an ideal opportunity for promoting the product and attracting the investors who will be crucial for refining the device and having it ready for the market in a year”, said James McNamara, one of the IT Sligo team members who brought the Imagine Cup back to Sligo.
Speaking about the IT Sligo students, Paul Rellis, Managing Director, Microsoft Ireland said: “Each year the Microsoft Imagine Cup shines a light on incredible innovative students around the world and this year we were delighted that the winning team for this year’s competition came from Ireland. It’s a great sign of the talent that is being developed in Irish Universities in the technology sector. There has been great interest in the student’s project and I’m delighted that the students are continuing to pursue their ambition of getting this project up and running as a viable business. We’re looking forward to seeing what happens next for them.”
After the win the students visited Silicon Valley and the European Parliament headquarters in Brussels to talk to industry leaders and politicians about the life-saving potential of their project.
One of the team, Calum Cawley from Castlebaldwin Co Sligo lives beside a notorious stretch of road on the N4 Dublin/Sligo route, which is currently bordered by 29 crosses, each one marking the scene of a fatal accident. Coroner Desmond Moran described the seven kilometre stretch as “the most dangerous stretch of road in Ireland”.
“That’s one of the reasons we are so passionate about this,” explained James a software development graduate from Ballyfarnan, Co Roscommon who is currently doing a research Master’s in cloud computing and mobile technology at IT Sligo. “We drive past those crosses every day and we know that hundreds of people are dying on the roads in Ireland every year and we wanted to do something to stop this slaughter”.
He explained that the IT Sligo team had initially probed the possibility of researching the impact of potholes on road safety “but we quickly realized that driving behaviour was a much bigger factor in road deaths than potholes”.
The device they developed plugs into a car engine and relays information about erratic driving to a phone application, and from there to a cloud computing platform, allowing drivers and car owners to monitor where and how the dangers are being created. “It will alert the user to speed, to hard cornering, sudden acceleration, in other words things we learn from the gravitational force,” said James. “We consulted with Garda crash forensic experts during the development process to give us a better insight into what the dangers are”.
The team’s solution used embedded technology, Windows Phone 7, Bing Maps and the Windows Azure cloud computing platform to create the product which they hope will change driving habits and reduce road deaths.
As well as James and Calum, the team included Aíne Conaghan from Ballybofey, Co Donegal and Matthew Padden from Ballina, Co Mayo. Their team mentor was Padraig Harte, a lecturer in the Institute’s Department of Information Systems.
James pointed out that there is more to the ground breaking device than allowing vehicle owners like parents to be “virtual passengers” who can monitor how a car is being driven from their homes. It will also encourage the drivers to beat the technology by driving safely and according to the student it will make driving safely, rather than driving fast, fun.
“We think one of the attractions of the product will be the computer game angle”, explained James. “Many young people love playing computer games and improving their gamer scores, we believe we can piggyback off this and use it to incentivise safe driving”.
The 2012 Microsoft Imagine Cup Competition is now open for entries and further information can be seen on www.imaginecup.com.
Image Caption: James McNamara (front) pictured with his team mates Aine Conaghan, Matthew Padden and Calum Cawley and Michael Meagher, Microsoft Ireland.