Four young female students from Qatar University (QU) win Microsoft’s Qatar Imagine Cup, a student technology competition, with their invention Artouch. The winning team, QSpark, was selected from approximately 470 applicants by presenting a project which allows for a way to virtually interact with exhibits in museums through the use of Microsoft’s Kinect sensor.

QU Imagine Cup
(Left to right): Mariam Ali Bahameish, Latifa Talal Al Naimi, Amna Khalid Al Kaabi, Rahma Saleh Ali, Dr Mohammed Al Mulla, VC & CEO of QAPCO, Naim Yazbeck, Country Manager of Microsoft Qatar, Dr Osama Halabi, team mentor, and Nasser Al Hajri, HR & Learning Manager of QAPCO.

The all-female team comprised of two 20-year-old Qataris, Latifa Talal Al Naimi, Amna Khalid Al Kaabi and 21-year-old Somaili Rahma Salen Ali took three months to develop Artouch. After taking the first place spot at the Imagine Cup competition in Qatar, the four students will represent Qatar in the Worldwide Finals held in July in St. Petersburg, Russia for an opportunity to present their project in front of an expert audience and win over US $300,000 in prizes.

QSpark team member Al Naimi, a third year computer science student at Qatar University (QU), explains Artouch by saying:

‘It comes from the concept of visiting museums but people aren’t allowed to touch the exhibits they see because they’re expensive so by touching them, you’ll damage them. Basically we came up with the idea that enables people to virtually touch the exhibits using something called a haptic device that pushes back forces so first of all, we obtain the depth image using the Kinect camera, which has depth camera and RGB cameras. So we obtain coordinates and use these coordinates to create a 3D model on the computer, which needs to have a decent graphic part. Using the 3D model, we will then use the haptic device that will calculate collisions between the 3D model and represent the haptic device on the screen. Using those collisions, it will calculate forces back to the user. The user at the end will be able to feel something pushing back. So it’s not actually physically touching the object but it’s virtually touching it.’

The aim of the Artouch is for the invention to be installed in museums and at exhibitions, where the technology can be most efficient. Before travelling to Russia in three months, the team is going to work on further developing the technology used for Artouch, with the help of Microsoft and Qatar Petrochemical (QAPCO), the Platinum Sponsor for Qatar Imagine Cup.

Al Kaabi adds:

‘We’re really going to enhance the speed. We’re also going to add different textures, the demo we showed yesterday [at the Imagine Cup Qatar finals] was just a solid object. We didn’t really apply any textures so we’re going to add different kinds of textures just to let people know that are different kinds of textures for different kinds of artifacts so they can feel the artifacts when they use the device. We’re also going to add sound, something called 3D sound, which is not regular sound. It’s a something that represents sound in 3D space. For example, if you approach the object, the closer you get, the louder the sound. It a sound that depends on where you stand in relation to the object. So that sound will play information about the object. And that will benefit blind people around the world.’

Hosted by Khalid Aboujassoum, winner of Qatar Foundations’ Stars of Science 2012, the competition gave students in Qatar an opportunity to bring their technology ideas to life with Microsoft resources and support. Now in its eleventh year, Imagine Cup 2013 concluded on Tuesday 26 March 2013 at the Hilton Doha by showcasing the innovative ideas of the five finalist teams from Qatar University (QU), Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMUQ) and Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMU-Q). The teams presented their ideas to a panel of judges, which included industry experts from Microsoft, QAPCO, Emirates Group, ictQatar, and Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI).

Human Resources and Learning Manager of QAPCO, Nasser Al Hajri, who was one of the judges of the Imagine Cup 2013, said:

The criteria judges use are concept, market opportunity, team communication skills, technology usage and more factors, which also have sub-criteria. It was a really very difficult to judge yesterday [at the Qatar Imagine Cup 2103 finals].’

Dr Mohamed Al Mulla, QAPCO’s VC & CEO, was very impressed with the high quality of the proposals submitted by the five teams, stating, ‘it has been very impressive to see the scope and the innovation displayed by all the teams this year, their ideas are wonderful and have made the jobs of the judges very hard.’

Speaking specifically about the QSpark team, Al Mulla, says:

‘The good thing about this whole thing that these students from Qatar University are all girls. If we think back 20 or 30 years back, when we used to talk about engineering, we used to just focus on boys. Back then, it was very rare to see a girl studying engineering. But mashallah, you’re all girls and you made it to the first place in the State of Qatar…I think what you showcased to the panel can further be developed in the next three months because the presentation here what just for a small number of people in Qatar but now, you’ll have to present it to an international audience.’

For the second year, Microsoft is bringing Imagine Cup to Qatar’s talented youth and ambitious students to promote innovation and education while cultivating a new generation of entrepreneurs to power a knowledge-based economy. Last year, the national team of four Qatari females participated in the worldwide finals against 98 countries and made it to the top 20. This year, teams in Qatar developed original technologies to help disabled citizens, manage airport queues, reduce food waste, and more.

Imagine Cup is open to students who are 16 years of age and older, empowering them to use their creative and technical abilities to make a positive impact on society.  Microsoft’s Imagine Cup which is the world’s largest student competition, was created eleven years ago with the idea that students can and will change the world. The Imagine Cup competition spans one year, beginning with local, then online contests in over 100 countries/regions. The finalists qualify to attend the Worldwide Finals held in a different country every year. The competition brings students together, provides resources and opportunities for students to innovate on the latest technologies, and provides new friendships that last well beyond the competition itself.