The Daily Californian Online

Information technology competition selects 12 projects as finalists

By Courtney Moulds
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2011
Category: News > University > Student Life

Among 12 projects selected as finalists in the Big Ideas Information Technology for Society competition is a crime reporting technology which ASUC Executive Vice President Nanxi Liu and other engineering students have been working on since last semester.

Liu's project, Crime Fighter, is a mobile application that would allow students to report crime - as well as send videos and pictures - from their cell phones without putting in a phone call.

Crime Fighter is an attempt to counter the "bystander effect" - which Liu described as a scenario that results when a crime is witnessed by a large group of people and none of them report it.

"You don't want to be that one person that picks up a phone and dials 911 in front of everyone," she said.

The Big Ideas competition is made up of 17 contests, each with a different focus. Big Ideas offers $300,000 total in prizes to winners from all the different competitions.

The program was significantly scaled back in 2009 when the competition's founder Thomas Kalil left, but this year the Rudd Family Foundation has offered 50 percent matching grants to the sponsors of each of the 17 contests, according to Student Action Senator Farrah Moos.

Liu's project was submitted to the Information Technology for Society competition, which is being sponsored by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society. The center allocated $45,000 to be distributed among winners of the competition. The 12 finalists - all from UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz - will present posters on their projects on Thursday, after which the winners will be announced.

The candidates for the information technology competition have created projects that use technology in some way or another to benefit society.

Another finalist in the information technology competition is The Hep B Project, which requested $3,000 and hopes to use some of the funding to create a mapping system of Hepatitis B in the Bay Area, according to project director and UC Berkeley junior Adele Feng.

"Our goal is to establish this system and then spread it," Feng said.

Several of the projects that were selected as finalists extend far beyond the Berkeley area, however.

UC Berkeley Ph.D student Anand Kulkarni's project, MobileWorks, is a "tool to help reduce poverty in the developing world," he said.

Kulkarni's project allows people to work from their mobile phones by typing up words. Several different people are given a word, or a few words, from a document and the software that Kulkarni created for the system synthesizes the words into documents that people have previously uploaded to be typed up.

MobileWorks has already launched in India, and users can make about 25 ruppees per hour.

Finalist Kuang Chen, a UC Berkeley Ph.D student, also created a system to be used overseas and said he plans to use the prize money for his pilot project. His project uses a system called Shreddr, which allows people working in health clinics to upload a picture of a document or scan it to be subsequently digitized and returned to the user.

Another project among the finalists from UC Santa Cruz is "We are History: A People's History of Lebanon." UC Santa Cruz graduate student Fabiola Hanna's project uses artificial intelligence technology to synthesize information from several different oral histories collected from people in Lebanon for others to watch online.

Hanna said there is no history textbook in Lebanon that covers material from 1943 until today, and she hopes her project will allow people in Lebanon to learn about their past.

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