Wednesday, July 8, 2009


One of the foundational goals of NetHope is helping nonprofits solve connectivity problems out the last 100kilometers to the most challenging places in the world in which we work. We believe that for technology to be able to serve those most in need, we need a foundation of connections, even if these are sometimes-connected solutions.

Two of the teams I met at the Imagine Cup competition in Cairo had creative solutions for the blind. The kAMUflage project from team Poland and the iSee project from the China team. Both were top-3 winners in their categories of the H.E. Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak Special Award and Embedded Development, respectively. (I was a judge in the former category.)

Team Poland had an amazing sheet music reader that converted to a Braille display device, which it turn allowed a blind person to compose music that the device sent to a PC that converted it to sound and Braille. The problem was that the Braille input/output device they found in the market and used costs about $2,000.

Team China had invented a Braille input/output device that took queries and fed back Wikipedia pages in Braille. It was another brilliant application. But the really cool thing was that the device they created from standard parts was less than $300. That's almost a seven-fold price improvement.

So I connected the two teams. During the Showcase yesterday afternoon, I invited members of team Poland to join me at team China's booth and see a demo of their product. Team China then saw a demo of team Poland's application. I encouraged them to think of the possibilities of combining their efforts to create a richer, more affordable solution. They both clearly liked what they saw and it was evident they were making the mental connections between their projects. They swapped cards and one of them told me later they had already exchanged emails.

This encounter reminded me that basic connectivity is often about putting the right people together [1]. Perhaps next year we will see a cross-category joint project among Imagine Cup teams from two countries in different parts of the world. That's the type of collaboration that will take us to the next level [2].

[1] I believe the same is also true for knowledge management applications, but that's a story for another day.
[2] BTW, collaboration is NetHope's second founding goal

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