A team of New Zealand students reached the semi-finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup this week, among some of the best and brightest young tech innovators in the world vying for more than US$725,000 in cash and prizes and an opportunity for a mentoring session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Winning ANZ Imagine Cup team, Sentinel, were among the six finalists in the Big Data category for their rainwater management system. The three students from University of Canterbury and University of Auckland created a device that monitors tank water levels and automatically reorders water from local tank-refilling companies to ensure that rural homes, farms and holiday homes never run dry. Team members Sam Yoon, Zac Lochhead and Zach Preston hope to encourage more sustainable water habits.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our Kiwi finalists, who are not only punching above their weight on the world stage but have created some game-changing solutions that will solve real-world problems,” says Chris Dick, Head of Marketing for Microsoft New Zealand. “I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of these talented young developers.”

The Microsoft Imagine Cup sees tens of thousands of aspiring student developers from across the globe teaming up to create imaginative real-world applications. Now in its 16th year, the competition has run annually since 2003. This year’s top inventions included a smart baby-cry translator and software to help people with hearing difficulties focus on a specific speaker in a noisy room.

This year three Kiwi teams made the global finals, with Team Sentinel and Auckland teams Hypebeat and UniRide defeating contenders from across New Zealand and Australia to reach the final tournament in Seattle. They competed against 49 teams from 33 countries including ultimate winners smartARM from Canada, who created a robotic hand that learns to recognise objects and use the appropriate grip to pick them up.

Hypebeat, an Auckland-based team consisting of Matt Bastion, Benjamin Sweney and Rivindu Weerasekera. placed second at the ANZ finals with its platform that helps emerging musicians get discovered by acting like a virtual manager. Musicians and their managers can analyse the key drivers behind different artists’ success with an app that uses machine learning to generate a personalised playbook of recommended actions and advice for each musician.

UniRide trio Andrew Hu, Sukhans Asrani and Winston Zhao created a carpooling app for university students that pairs students with compatible schedules.

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