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Imagine Cup Well yes, let's face it: it is always good PR to be seen doing something with the kids. And through its Imagine Cup Microsoft has done quite well on that front - from giving kids from around the world a taste of the entrepreneurial life.

But sometimes, something else emerges by happenstance. In the case of the Innovation Accelerator it was a strong sense of direction as to where the mix of IT, mobile phones, Bluetooth, Global Positioning Systems, social software and the creation of communities are collectively heading.

Innovation Accelerator was a follow up exercise on last year’s Imagine Cup jointly sponsored by Microsoft and BT. It brought together some of last year's national winners in the Imagine compo and threw some resources, expertise, and mainly love'n' cuddles in their direction over a period of two weeks.

Last year the theme of the Cup had been to produce an application related to health care, and most of the teams – all made up of students studying IT and related academia – had opted for the combination of IT running an application built round a database, plus some form of medical monitoring device or system. It is the middle that is of most interest, however. There is where comes the use of Bluetooth to communicate between the monitoring device and the mobile phone and the use of GPS to tell the 'community' or more formal authorities, where the user is.

Take the Croatian team's efforts, for example. Here, the monitor is a smart ECG system aimed at people at risk from heart problems. The usual reason they succumb is because any response comes too late, so if the ECG can clock a problem and report it via Bluetooth and the mobile, together with a GPS-derived location, someone has a better chance of surviving.

The Norwegians showed the value of community, no matter how small, in that a parent could monitor whether a child had taken relevant medicines, such as Insulin - and remind the little horror by text if necessary. A much larger community could spring from the German team's offering. This is aimed at the physically disabled, such as wheelchair users and prevails upon GPS to collect the user's current position, with the information fed back to the user in one of the common online map forms.

But most maps these days are road/vehicle-oriented, not footpath/sidewalk-oriented. So as the users move, their position is recorded, as are any observations on the suitability of the route they care to make. Over time then, valuable information can be generated by and for a community of disabled users.

Yes, there are issues of privacy that need to be addressed, but these may not come to much in practice if the information is largely kept within - and for the benefit of - a definable community. In fact, the potential to create communities of common interest around this combination of technologies could represent a significant opportunity for smart developers. And after all, if students can do it without the resources of a large R&D machine behind them, it is a potential that is open to all with the wit.®

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