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Students buzzing over Imagine Cup win

Published: 3:03PM Wednesday April 13, 2011 Source: ONE News

A team of Auckland university engineering students have won the New Zealand round of the Microsoft Imagine Cup.

Team OneBuzz took out the title last night, for the second year in a row.

The aim of the competition is for teams to present technology solutions for global problems and there is a $25,000 first prize up for grabs.

The final was held at the University of Auckland Business School and the four finalists presented their projects for 15 minutes to a panel of judges and an audience of friends, family and celebrities.

"It is such a buzz to win this competition, it took months of sweat and tears to get to this point and the whole process from generating the original idea, through to seeing the project become a reality has been absolutely incredible," team leader Vinny Lohan said.

Team OneBuzz will now compete in an online qualifying round with the winning teams all over the world for a chance to represent New Zealand at the worldwide finals in New York, July 2011.

Lohan said their dream is to find a cure for malaria, not a band-aid.

"A lot of organisations are putting a lot of effort into fighting malaria, but they're not getting a lot of return out of it," Lohan said.

He said when they were trying to think of a project to pursue, malaria was always in the back of his mind.

"My mother had malaria when she was pregnant with me and I had malaria in my teens, so there was that personal connection to fighting the disease.""

Current methods of fighting malaria are spraying larvacide in areas where mosquitoes are thought to breed, providing mosquito nets to be used while sleeping and appropriate medication for the four different strands of the disease.

But Lohan said for these methods to be effective officials need to know where the medicine is going to and where the spray needs to be used.

NGOs and Aid Organisations don't always have that information at hand, but OneBuzz provides those answers.

"We digitised the whole system, so that if there are cases of malaria, anyone from doctors to patients' families can text message that information. Our system collects that information, combines it with weather predictions and previous history of malaria in the region and then predicts the likelihood of an outbreak in the area within the next few weeks," Lohan said.

"The problem isn't a lack of medication - they have warehouses full of it. They just don't know where to send it.

"Malaria is curable but only if you get the medicine to the right people in the right place, at the right time. That's what we do."

Lohan said the team's relationship with the National Institute for Malaria Research (in India)) is very good and they are providing much of the expensive data that the system needs to run for free.

The team also won last year's New Zealand Imagine Cup, with a 'One Beep' system that connected computers using radio. The system allowed users to plug their radios into computers and download material.

They placed third in the Global final in Cairo.

Lohan is flying to Portugal later this year to oversee field tests on the One Beep system.

The OneBuzz team has had an interview with the Gates Foundation and hope their system will be showcased on Bill Gates' blog.

"Philanthropist organisations might also be interested when they see this system being rolled out so there are plenty of funding options available," said Lohan.

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