College Inventors Earn $100,000 in New Contest
An engineering student demonstrates a glove that acts as a wireless keyboard for any Bluetooth-enabled device. The glove was one of three winners of a recent contest for innovative ideas from college students.
CREDIT: From "Typing Glove - GAUNTLET Keyboard Glove" by GauntletKeyboard on YouTube
A glove that turns wearers' hands into wireless keyboards, a platform to raise money for charity by playing video games, and a website where craftswomen without Internet access can sell their wares are three big ideas from college students that recently won tens of thousands of dollars in support.
The prizes went out Sept. 18, from the Best Buy College Innovators Fund, a new effort from the big-box electronics retailer. The top winner, the e-commerce tech for women who lack Internet access, took home $50,000. The gaming platform won $30,000, while the keyboard glove earned $20,000.
"We often hear about the economic challenges and tough times, so it’s motivating to see fresh ideas are still emerging," Meredith Perry, founder of the wireless electricity company uBeam and one of Best Buy's judges for the contest, said in a statement.
A group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came up with the handcrafts-site idea, which they call SasaAfrica. Their technology allows craftspeople to create a webpage to sell their goods, using a simple cellphone, which many people throughout Africa own. The online stores are able to take credit card payments, which SasaAfrica converts into mobile money that the craftspeople then get on their phones.
Sellers don't need access to the Internet or a bank account to join, making SasaAfrica accessible to the low-income women who make many of Africa's handmade jewelry and other trinkets, but who typically don't earn much from their efforts. SasaAfrica's founders have run a pilot in Kenya, co-founder Ella Peinovich said during a presentation at Rice University in April.
At the gaming platform Spawnd, another award winner, users create a profile and link it to their favorite game accounts. Then, users can recruit friends and family to sponsor the user’s playtime, benefiting charities that the game player chooses. It works much like running a marathon for a cause, but targets gaming enthusiasts instead.
Spawnd members also earn Spawnd Points while they play. The project's founders, students at the University of California at Berkeley and Irvine, hope to partner with gaming companies to offer free products or discounts in return for Spawnd Points. The partnership would give companies access to exactly the right market for their products, according to the project's description on Best Buy's Facebook page.
The third-place keyboard glove, called Gauntlet, is an input device for the present and future. It lets users type on any Bluetooth-enabled device, including laptops, smartphones and upcoming heads-up displays, such as Google Glasses, Gauntlet's creators wrote on Best Buy's Facebook page.
To type, users tap their thumbs on letters painted along the glove’s fingers. The device should be unobtrusive to wear and easy to use, Gauntlet's engineers, students at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, wrote on their website. The students have already built a prototype, which they demonstrate in a 30-second video.
The contest organizers aim to keep sponsoring such student creativity. "Through the Best Buy College Innovator Fund, we hope to spark a continued effort and support for innovative thinking among the next generation," said Stephen Gillett, Best Buy's president for digital marketing. Seeing the submissions, he said, "helped us understand what today’s entrepreneurs have developed and are developing."