Early TB detection project wins student technology competition

An innovative computer-aided detection programme that detects tuberculoses at an early stage has won a student from the University of Johannesburg a place in the final of a global technology competition in Australia next year.

December 14, 2011

An innovative computer-aided detection programme that detects tuberculoses at an early stage has won a student from the University of Johannesburg a place in the final of a global technology competition in Australia next year.

Joshua Leibstein of Team Asclepius beat off the challenge of some of the top computer programming students from across the country to win the South African leg of the Imagine Cup 2011, a Microsoft-sponsored technology competition which pits the world’s best student programmers against each other.

Joshua’s image processing application, which helps radiologist detect signs of tuberculoses at an early stage, was adjudged the best entry in the final of the competition at the Birchwood Conference Centre. This bright mechanical engineering student will go on to represent South Africa at the global Imagine Cup finals in Sydney in July 2012.

“I was inspired to create a solution to a serious medical problem in South Africa where TB has the seventh highest incidence in the world and unfortunately endemic under mine workers,” says Joshua. “The early detection system has the potential to increase the success level of TB-related treatments available to rural and underdeveloped areas.”

Another team from the University of Johannesburg ended a close second with their social media analysis application, which has been designed to create a global perspective on any issue expressed in the social media sphere.

Now in its tenth year, the Imagine Cup challenges the world’s best student programmers to create applications to solve real-world problems. Last year, the competition drew 358 000 entries from 183 countries.  This year South Africa received over 40 entries.

The head of Microsoft’s developer and platform team, Clifford de Wit, said the judges had been “hugely impressed” by the outstanding quality of the projects and the levels of innovation displayed. “Many of these apps blew me away with their unique approaches to common problems. There is immense talent out there, and we need to nurture and encourage it in every way we can.”

Isaac Maredi, Director of ICT at the Department of Science and Technology, says computer science is central to driving innovation and development of communities locally and on a global scale.

“These students’ creativity fills me with hope and excitement because it speaks volumes about the promise of technology to advance the way we think, work and communicate in South Africa, and beyond,” he said.

At the worldwide finals, students will compete in categories ranging from software design and games development to challenges involving algorithms and programming. Students’ work will reflect valuable solutions that give a helping hand to the world’s sustainable environmental issues while giving them the opportunity to compete for generous cash prizes.

Last year’s winning project, Project HAWK, was a crowd-sourced, collaborative information aggregation, reporting and geo-visualisation system geared towards community-centric disaster management and neighbourhood improvement.

Richard Kantor, a director at lead sponsor BBD, says the vision of the Imagine Cup is to inspire the next generation of technology and business leaders to stimulate local economies around the world. “Inspiration is always contagious and it goes a long way. We may have just encouraged a couple of future ‘rock-stars’ to emerge in the development community,” said Kantor.