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Students come from all over the country for Microsoft's software developing competition
Students strolling through the University of Washington's Bothell campus are confronted with countless challenges - tests, research papers, and many more - but invading robots fighting a biological battle isn't the typical academic bout.
Nevertheless, three students there used that idea in a technology competition that gives high school and college students the opportunity to create technology solutions to help improve education, healthcare, the environment and more.
Their entry was designed to teach players about the threats of germs and bacteria, and to educate about hygiene. It was one of many at the U.S. finals of Microsoft's Imagine Cup held Monday on the company's Redmond campus. The Bothell team took third place in the Game Design - Windows/Xbox category.
"One of the biggest problems in developed cities and countries is we all touch the same handrails and tables without washing our hands enough," said Evan Harris, of the Bothell team Credit/No Credit. "That's how these epidemics begin," he said, referring specifically to concentrated populations with constant contact such as at middle and high schools.
The winners in the three cup categories – Arizona State; Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa., will represent the United States in Sydney this summer.
UW Bothell had two teams competing. KinectMath used Microsoft's motion-capture technology, Kinect, to illustrate mathematical concepts in a way that allowed students to participate.
"What we set out to do was develop an application that can make math more approachable," said Jeb Pavleas, a senior at UW-Bothell.
As UW-Bothell players were trying to eradicate disease, two booths down found the youngest team showing the tradeoffs involved in technological advances. The team from Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, Md., developed a game based on the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011.
Players go through a variety of levels where they must build a network of hydro-electric power, while still controlling a water wheel that blocks harmful materials such as cement from getting into the river. As players climb through the levels, the technology gets better, but the environmental consequences increase. By the end, dams can cause buildup, but more homes have power.
"Technology has positives and negatives and they have to be weighed to figure out if it's worth it," said Andrew Dicken, a member of the Springbrook team known as Digital Infinity, which finished in second in its division.
The contest, which Microsoft created 10 years ago, was built to help prepare aspiring programs and developers for a growing computer industry. Microsoft estimates that by 2016, an additional 800,000 high-end computing jobs will be created.
Harris, who is just a few months away from graduating, is hoping to end up in one of those jobs. His ultimate goal is to work for either Google or Microsoft as algorithmic developer. At least for the next few months, he will have to settle for eradicating disease, one Xbox at a time.