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  5. Runner tracking app wins inaugural Qualcomm Wireless Innovation Prize

Runner tracking app wins inaugural Qualcomm Wireless Innovation Prize

Master's in business administration students (from left) Stephen Ranjan, Eric Baum, Tyler Heslinga and Vinothkumar Narasimhan won $10,000 and top prize at the inaugural Qualcomm Wireless Innovation Prize for Runner's Fan, a smartphone app that tracks runners during races.

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A smartphone application that will allow running race observers to keep track of particular runners in real time has won $10,000 and top prize at the inaugural University of Wisconsin-Madison Qualcomm Wireless Innovation Prize.

The idea for the app, called Runner’s Fan, came when master’s degree in business administration (MBA) student Eric Baum got separated from his girlfriend while the two were participating in a half marathon. When Baum finished, he had no way of knowing where his girlfriend was or if she was still even on the course. On the hot, humid summer day, he was concerned about her condition.

Though his girlfriend was fine, the situation inspired Baum to team up with fellow MBA students Tyler Heslinga, Vinothkumar Narasimhan and Stephen Ranjan to find a way to prevent his sense of helplessness from happening again.

In addition to allowing users to monitor a runner’s progress along a race route, the app also provides statistics about the runner’s pace and health by syncing with existing apps that record heart rate or other data. The app also could be useful for training and other sports races, such as cycling or cross-country skiing.

The Qualcomm Wireless Innovation Prize, sponsored by the San Diego, California-based mobile technology company, rewards students who present creative wireless technology products and well-developed business plans to make those products profitable. The competition was held April 28, 2011, in Union South.

“We have a lot of outstanding UW-Madison graduates at Qualcomm, and we felt a contest like this would help broaden students’ academic experience,” says Jim Thompson, the Qualcomm vice president of CDMA Technology and a UW-Madison alumnus. “We also hope to encourage students in business, engineering and computer science to pursue careers in wireless.”

Second place and $5,000 went to biomedical engineering undergraduate student Tyler Lark for Live Healthy, Do Good, a program to simultaneously make healthy food choices and charitable donations via a portable electronic device.  

“When I was a kid, at dinnertime my mom would tell me to clean my plate because there were starving children in Africa,” Lark says. “Eventually, all kids realize that what we eat doesn’t really affect anyone else, but with Live Healthy, Do Good, you actually can have that effect.”

The app encourages users confronted with an unhealthy fast food choice to redirect their funds to a charitable food organization. The amount of the donation is tied to the number of calories in the tempting item, so, for example, instead of eating a hamburger, a user could donate a certain percentage of those calories to provide meals to those suffering from chronic hunger either locally or internationally.

Third place and $2,500 was awarded to Touch Live Connect, an enhanced online chatting program invented by industrial and systems engineering undergraduate student Nai-Wen (Claire) Yu.

The software emphasizes creating shared experiences for video chat users, allowing people to put themselves in a shared background (like space or famous cities) and watch videos together while simultaneously seeing each other’s reactions. As many as six people could participate in a Touch Live Connect chat, and users could log into the program from a wide variety of electronic devices.

“Every day we hear of one more idea that has really taken off, such as Facebook, Groupon, etc. This competition offers our students an opportunity to show their creativity in this area and encourages interdisciplinary teams to not only innovate on the technology front but also think about the business potential of their idea,” says Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Parameswaran Ramanathan, who co-coordinated the competition with Duane H. and Dorothy M. Bluemke Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Chair John Booske.

The coordinators say the competition was very close in terms of technological quality. Ultimately, the panel of six judges, including wireless experts from Qualcomm and other technology firms, rewarded the projects with the strongest business plans.

Sandra Knisely