Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 18:30 UK

The race for 'green' technology

With the Olympic games well underway in Beijing, David Reid went to Paris to meet budding software developers who have been competing in a different kind of race.

Imagine Cup
Microsoft's Imagine Cup has been running for seven years
The students took part in a three day competition when Microsoft hosted its annual Imagine Cup competition.

It is subtitled the Software Olympics and featured 370 competitors - 124 teams from 61 countries - who arrived at the event with applications, games and embedded solutions all with the aim of saving the environment.

The competition takes a pretty hard-headed approach to the students' tinkering. This was not just selfless toil for a noble cause, the bottom line for software designers is to earn a living.

"Every year a couple of them start their own companies. They've been raising millions of dollars over the last few years, creating more jobs," said president of Microsoft International Jean-Philippe Courtois.

"So it is also an opportunity to accelerate their careers and to show to some of the students that they can actually create their own jobs by creating their own companies."

This year's environmental theme was not just public relations green wash, but a feasible future market place for the software developers' ideas.

"The students have to come up with a solution and they are using technology as a way to solve the problems that they've stated. So necessity really is the mother of invention here. And the invention is what we are looking at today," said Imagine Cup coordinator Scott Davis.

Read about some of the competiting team's products by using the links below.


In Egypt, World War II landmines hidden from sight beneath the desert sand are endangering the lives of those who live there.

Egyptian Creative Mind test their mine detection product

But Egyptian team Creative Mind from Helwan University has developed software that interprets silhouettes produced by underground imaging so that a benign-looking blob can be confirmed as harmless or highly explosive.

"I have images, then I make the imaging processing steps to detect mines in these images," said Creative Mind's Abdullah Hazaea.

The system is currently only 90% accurate, but with financial backing it could be an ongoing concern.


"One [invention] that is most interesting is by the team from Ireland," said Mr Davis. "Their embedded solution is actually monitoring how to use rape-seed oil as the fuel for their car, something that has never been done before in a single tank." he added.

Acid Rain's car
Brian Byrne from the Acid Rain team explained that most modern diesel engines require a two tank conversion system.

"There is a system of sensors and it monitors the engine, how it is running and it adjusts our systems to match a specific oil. So if you are using sunflower oil we'll adjust our algorithm to suit sunflower oil, if it's rape-seed oil it will be a different program," said Mr Byrne.

"When you are using unrefined plant oil you are going to get incomplete combustion, so we are combating all that with our system," he added.


Polish team Aero@Put plans to use remote sensing to test pollution levels by taking air samples and photos with a remote controlled helicopter, to monitor the environment for what it is telling us about itself.

Aero@Put's helicopter used in remote sensing

Mikolaj Malaczynski from Poznan University said that it was crucial to have agile remote sensing platforms.

"Remote sensing networks are difficult and problematic to maintain. Existing aerial photography with planes is very costly. Such a device is really inexpensive. We can programme this device to take photos in certain points and at certain altitudes," said Mr Malaczynski.

"We can monitor crop health and irrigation. You can monitor temperature over various landscapes. We can get information about greenhouse gases," he added.


South Korean team, Tree Talk, has come up with technology that it believes could end up giving us the tools to talk with trees and prevent those growing in cities from dying out.

A plant wire up to Tree Talk's sensors (L) and an graphical display of the output (R)

"It is a tree management system, but it is different from a regular tree management system because we are using our special sensors which will detect a signal from a tree," said Han-Wook Lee from Korea University.

"We use these sensors to detect a level of electric current that is running inside the trunk of a tree. Then we analyse it and model it into information we can use.

"One of the main things that trees in a city do is convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. They also work as a heat sink. They absorb an enormous amount of heat. And what happens if we do not have trees is that we have to use a lot of energy to air condition our cities."

It is not always the greatest innovations that make in the big wide world. Developing a novel technology is a valuable talent, but the ability to pitch an application to a likely market can be more valuable still.

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