Covert nodding and hand signals sail from one end to the other of the room. We’re watching the four-man crew, BitMasters setting-up as they prepare to announce their impending departure to Seattle WA. Representing Sri Lanka at the final round of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup under the Innovation category, this team is to break the recent silence at the Imagine Cup on Sri Lanka’s part. They’re scheduled to be at Microsoft’s Redmond campus from 27-29 this month. You can read up on what they’ve been up to here.
The journey began last October according to Competition Coordinator Wellington Perera. Emerging winners at the local leg of competitions for the ‘Innovation’ slot, they’ve had to stand-off against over 80 other teams. “Meanwhile, 54 other countries,” he says were also hunting for the best teams within their borders to compete for the domestic title. Advancing on to the international round of competition, the BitMasters are now up against 12 other Countries including Australia, New Zealand, Romania, France, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Guatemala, Italy, Turkey, Tunisia and the US.
Undeterred by their audience’s fixed gaze, we’re compelled to think that the lads are accustomed to presenting their work to the most skeptical of judges. Chathusha Wijenayake introduces his team, Lakmal Meegahapola, Charith Eranga and Chanaka Lakmal. “All of us are from the Faculty of Engineering, at the University of Moratuwa.”
What is the BitMasters Product?
“Digital Signage” is predicted to be a seven billion dollar industry by 2020. Currently, however, the industry isn’t without some drawbacks. Their research has pointed to four key issues- “No connectivity, no feedback, it’s not targeted and the cost is high.”
To mitigate these glitches, BitMasters present their solution- Amplus. There’s hardware and an application involved. The device itself is a rectangular unit, connected to a power source, a display screen via HDMI cable and a camera. Ideally, it should sit on top of a display screen it’s connected to.
Scanning the demographic around the display unit it’s hooked to, the camera allows Amplus to customize the advertisements that flicker to life on screen. “At the moment,” we’re told the device is built to recognize gender, allowing advertisers to run gender specific adds depending on the crowd.
Amplus also gathers statistics around each display. Advertisers can create a virtual account on Amplus, and log in to access information such as who has viewed their ads and what time of day does it attract attention. Gender neutral adds can also be uploaded.
Another feature we’re told is that the Amplus system will effectively connect all digital signage units. Advertisers can merely click on a location and upload an advert while making an online payment. This heightens connectivity according to the BitMasters since “you can upload ads from anywhere in the world to be displayed in any location.”
Display unit owners they say will only be tasked with attaching the Amplus unit onto their screens. “It’s a plug and play” sort of deal, where depending on the demand of their device’s location will make a monthly income.
The BitMasters have even gone on to test this. Big players like Dialog and Softlogic have been of immense support during testing they share, but the support from small business owners “like those owning CD shops” has also been stout.
The Journey to the Imagine Cup Global Finals.
Most good ideas are simple ones. For the BitMasters, this didn’t mean less work. “Originally we wanted to create a notice board” the say, hoping to solve the issues a workplace has with communicating notices. Potentially revolutionizing the advertising industry was admittedly an afterthought.
As you could gather by the team’s picture gallery on the Imagine Cup’s profile of the BitMasters, their work has in fact received attention. Participating in these varied challenges, however, has been a process they’ve willingly committed to. “The dynamic” of each competition is very different they share “We didn’t go just to win.” Decisions like abandoning the Raspberry Pi which their initial model was built for their current software stack have happened in progression. Picking up a new refinement at these competitions or simply being open to feedback to make their product a solid one is ingrained in how the BitMasters function.
With a viable product to their name, Amplus has even attracted investors. “Since we have been winning competitions, people are interested in funding us” they divulge, but the BitMasters aren’t stopping now. There’s more to learn they feel and possibly even a better product refinement at the end of the Imagine Cup experience. Their other problem was that they were in the second year of their respective undergraduate degrees with little time to launch the product.
“What most of you don’t know,” they say, is that this isn’t the squad’s first entry at the Imagine Cup. “We entered last year as well” with a different product but didn’t make it past the national rounds of competition.
A lot has changed since then for the lads who are now packing up for Seattle. With 500,000 USD prize money and a private audience with Satya Nadella at stake, they’re “not very nervous” we’re assured. A year jam packed with competition appearances has them prepared for battle.
With bated breath, we await news from the Imagine Cup 2016 and wish the BitMasters the very best!