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Contact: Sheryl Weinstein
New Jersey Institute of Technology

Students develop winning smartphone app to end world hunger

Daniel Boston (left), NJIT Associate Professor Cristian Borcea (center) and Manoop Talasila developed a smart phone application they hope would be able to help eradicate world hunger. The application received an honorable mention in the Microsoft 2011 Imagine Cup.
Credit: John Micale, NJIT

The Microsoft 2011 Imagine Cup recently honored a smart phone application to eradicate world hunger developed by two NJIT graduate students. Computer science doctoral candidates Daniel Boston, of Pittsgrove, and Manoop Talasila, of North Brunswick, took honorable mention in the prestigious competition http://www.imaginecup.com/.

Their entry, "MobiCrops," http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVFvpoHcqXM , a five-minute, self-narrated slide presentation, describes an original smart phone and social media application to teach and enable farmers worldwide to communicate better. Using their tool, farmers could improve their efficiency for planning and producing crops for the world's neediest markets. Eradicating world hunger was the goal of the idealistic pair.

"The competition was a great chance to work in new environments on an interesting project," Boston said. "We wanted to find the technology to assist in solving world hunger. I credit my partner Manoop with identifying the problem and once he told me about it, I said, yes, let's do it."

The NJIT students presented their research to New York City-based Microsoft executives. The value of the exercise was learning to talk and think on their feet, said the students. The project also revealed how the real world works. "Microsoft's people were looking at the project's marketability and profitability. But as researchers we're not always thinking along those lines. Our first goal is usually to solve the problem, not make money."

Both students are enrolled in the College of Computing Sciences http://ccs.njit.edu/. Their advisor is Cristian Borcea, PhD, associate professor.

"While NJIT was not an Imagine Cup US finalist, we were proud to be commended for our exceptional project and awarded a much coveted honorable mention," said Borcea.

According to the judges, the NJIT team has what it takes to stand out against the thousands of students who compete annually for the title. They recommended that the NJIT team continue improving its project and consider resubmitting next year for Imagine Cup 2012. They also recommended that the NJIT team talk with faculty, professionals in industry and potential employers about the Imagine Cup project and the awarded certificate. "It is a recognition of your team's outstanding work. Potential employers are often eager to hear about your role on the project, the technology you used, the goals of your project, and especially what you learned from the process," the judges wrote to contestants.

Talasila works full-time as an information technology software developer at Chubb Insurance Company using Java to build insurance web tools to create policies and bonds. He is a part-time doctoral student working under Borcea on location authentication in mobile computing. He hopes his research will enable him to build better business products which can contribute to solving basic problems for developing nations. He was born in Southern India near Bengaluru and moved to the U.S. in 2004 when he was 22. He received his master's degree in computer science from Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green. This was the first time he had heard of the Imagine Cup but he thought it was a great chance to contribute something to mankind. "Having ideas and publishing them is easy, but getting a real solution that will work to solve a real world difficult problem that can change the world is a lot harder."

Boston works full-time as a researcher for Borcea. He's designing different methods for finding social communities from records of meetings between people over time. He collects these records using a Bluetooth application on mobile phones. His goal is to find correct communities without directly asking community members to declare their membership. His most recent work includes developing a tool to visually investigate these communities. He hopes one day to apply this knowledge to a job in industry.


NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, enrolls more than 8,900 students pursuing bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 120 programs. The university consists of six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, College of Architecture and Design, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, College of Computing Sciences and Albert Dorman Honors College. U.S. News & World Report's 2010 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities. NJIT is internationally recognized for being at the edge in knowledge in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. Many courses and certificate programs, as well as graduate degrees, are available online through the Office of Continuing Professional Education.