Microsoft Recognizes Software Companies Making a Difference in Healthcare, Education, the Environment
Kathrin Lemler had been trapped in a virtual prison for 19 years. Stricken with cerebral palsy (CP), Lemler was unable to do many of the things associated with every-day living, such as making small talk with a neighbor or completing transactions at the local bank branch or corner grocery store. Instead, her conversations were limited to short sentences – typically via instant messages, which made it difficult to connect with society or fully communicate her wishes, thoughts or feelings.
Kathrin Lemler uses MyTobii to chat with her cab driver, make telephone calls and write long passages of text.
That all changed the day Lemler first used MyTobii, specially-designed software and hardware that uses eye-tracking technology to allow users like Lemler to interact with a computer, and gave her the freedom to live more independently and do things that previously would have been impossible. The technology allowed Lemler to write lengthy e-mails and keep in better touch with friends and family. The system helped her “talk” on the phone, or interact with a bank teller without using an interpreter.
“From the moment I got a MyTobii, my communication has run much more smoothly,” says Lemler. “It starts in the morning. I’m able to chat with my cab driver who takes me to school. For me, communication is one of the most important abilities in life. It is more than expressing your needs. Getting in contact with others and talking to them makes you a member of society. MyTobii has become my voice.”
Today, Microsoft recognized the creators of My Tobii - Tobii Technology of Stockholm, Sweden - for the positive impact that MyTobii is having on the lives of people with disabilities as part of the Ingenuity Point contest, a competition for software development efforts in the areas of education, healthcare and environmental sustainability. Tobii was one of three ISVs to win the first round of the competition. The other winners are TR Control Solutions, a UK-based provider of resource monitoring technologies for schools, and OSIsoft, a California-based developer of real-time information controls that are used by water utilities around the world.
The Ingenuity Point is a year-long, international competition among ISVs. In addition to this initial round of winners, Microsoft will announce a second round, and the grand prize winner, in spring 2008. The grand prize winner will then serve as an honorary judge at the Imagine Cup 2008 world finals next July in Paris, France. Microsoft’s hope is that Ingenuity Point will enlarge the impact of these ISVs and others, so more people are aware of and can benefit from the passion of these companies and the power of their technologies.
Rob Bernard, Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist and former general manager of the company’s Worldwide ISV group, says that these three products are great examples of the many technologies that are addressing the needs of individuals and the world as a whole. “Software has increased what’s possible on so many levels,” says Bernard. “Independent software vendors – those companies with a specific area of expertise and a passion that drives them to apply that expertise – are doing some truly amazing work, and we want to draw attention to those efforts through The Ingenuity Point.”
Greater Freedom through Technology
Founded in 2001, Tobii Technology has quickly become a leader in the field of eye-tracking technology. Combining their engineering expertise with a range of Microsoft technologies, including Visual Studio 2005, the .NET Framework, and DirectX, Tobii created a new eye-tracking solution that has given people who suffer from diseases such as CP, multiple sclerosis (MS) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – more independence.
In addition to its work in assistive technologies, the company also develops eye-tracking solutions for the market research industry, and provides its technology to other hardware and software vendors. First released in 2005, MyTobii incorporates the company’s eye-tracking technology into a computer monitor’s bezel, the portion of the monitor shell that surrounds the screen. Using a miniature camera and image sensors, MyTobii picks up reflections off the cornea of the user’s eyes and uses this information to interact with the person and control the software based on their eye movements.
John Elvesjö, Tobii co-founder and executive vice president, says that the company initially wasn’t sure what to do with the eye-tracking solution they’d created. “In the early stages of development, we didn’t have a clear idea who would benefit most from our eye-tracking technology. That uncertainty disappeared when we realized that people with disabilities really had no other choices for interaction,” says Elvesjö. “Seeing MyTobii’s impact on the lives of these people is both amazing and touching at the same time. People who use it can communicate much faster and accomplish tasks without attaching any cumbersome input devices to their heads. It not only allows them to sustain their lives, but also gives them greater independence and freedom to live in a comfortable manner.”
Turning Knowledge in to Power
Walton Oaks Primary School tracks their consumption of electricity on a LCD monitor.
Just as MyTobii empowers the disabled, ecoDriver empowers students, teachers and administrators. The directors of TR Control Solutions, John Taylor and Robert Battye, wanted to help companies adopt environmentally-responsible behavior and business practices through the use of information technology. Taylor and Battye recognized, however, that their greatest chance for long-term success would be to work with students who graduate in the next 10 years.
With this in mind, they applied their expertise in real-time monitoring and process control technology to create ecoDriver Schools, a solution that allows administrators, teachers and students to monitor, manage and report on a school’s consumption of water, electricity, natural gas and other resources. Data reflecting the consumption levels is displayed on a monitor so the whole school can track how various changes in behavior will save the school money and reduce its carbon footprint.
Walton Oaks Primary School in Walton-On-Thames, a town located in Southeast England, used ecoDriver Schools to help reduce its consumption of electricity, simply by watching the consumption levels displayed on the monitor. The school caretaker also noticed that the irrigation system turned on automatically twice a day (despite the region’s damp climate). Furthermore, electricity consumption during the weekends was as much as half of what it was when students and teachers were present. Armed with this information, the caretaker managed to reduce the non-school-day consumption rate by more than 20 percent within the first four weeks of operation.
The benefit of ecoDriver Schools includes an impact on what’s taught in the classroom as well. Drawing upon his experience as a teacher, TR Control’s Taylor created a curriculum component so teachers can engage students in various subjects by importing the data into Microsoft Office applications. The end result is that students can more easily see the relevance of their studies in “real life” scenarios. Purposeful activities, such as adopting ‘green’ practices on Wednesdays and turning off the lights when rooms aren’t in use, teach them that collective change is only possible through individual decisions –each student can choose either to make a difference for positive change or to maintain the status quo.
“The pupils have a real sense of concern about the environment, and they want to effect change by reducing emissions,” says Taylor. “Schools have banded together before to form ‘eco-schools communities,’ but now they have a dedicated system to help drive real change in a collaborative way. ecoDriver provides the foundation for sustainable development, and also provides a channel for the enthusiasm of teachers and pupils who want to make a difference.”
Efficient Water Management Sustains the Quality of Life
Gary Wong, global water industry executive for OSIsoft, shares Taylor’s and Battye’s belief in the power of knowledge sharing to provoke change. In his role, Wong is responsible for helping educate water and waste water utilities about how to conduct business in a sustainable manner, and how to effectively manage the entire water cycle.
For the last 26 years, OSIsoft has helped companies in energy, utilities, manufacturing and life science to monitor their operations and processes in real-time. Using the OSIsoft PI System (Plant Information System), these companies can pull data from enterprise resource planning, geographic information system and other line of business applications. The PI System then acts as a central data store through which they can analyze the data and identify any changes that are needed to keep their operations running efficiently.
Gary Wong, OSIsoft water industry executive, educates water and waste water utilities on sustainable business practices.
One of OSIsoft’s customers is the Halifax Regional Water Commission (HRWC), the first regulated water, wastewater and stormwater utility in Canada. HRWC is a fully-metered utility that provides drinking water to about 325,000 residents of Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) through a 1,300 km (more than 1,000 miles) pipe network. The PI System enables HRWC to collect, analyze and disseminate data from more than 120 meters across their treatment and distribution facilities. With this information they can then determine the period of a leak, the amount of leakage and narrow the location to a specific district-metered area. Consequently, the PI System has been a key contributor to HRWC’s daily reduction in leakage of almost nine million gallons of potable water. This reduction translates to a savings of more than US$550,000 per year.
According to Wong, most water utilities also have numerous processes that they must monitor related to the treatment, desalination and distribution of water and waste water. Using the PI System, water utilities around the world have been able to monitor water quality. If turbidity or salt-levels get too high, the water utility can reroute water or shut down the desalination process until it returns to acceptable levels.
Completing all these processes and distributing the water is a significant drain on the power grid, such that one-third of the cost of water and waste water treatment is from the consumption of energy. Wong emphasizes that the PI System allows water utilities to monitor consumption rates in real time and modify their pumping strategies to run more efficiently. “Water is about the quality of life; it’s absolutely essential to live. But in areas such as the Middle East and Australia, energy and water go hand-in-hand – especially when desalination is required to treat water for human consumption,” says Wong. “Even so, utilities must operate in an economic, social and environmentally sustainable manner. Solutions such as the PI System are helping water utilities to reach that level of sustainability.”
Building Tools for Change
Using their expertise and innovative technologies, companies such as Tobii Technology, TR Control Solutions and OSIsoft are providing customers with tools to address their needs. According to TR Control’s Battye, how customers use those tools is what makes the difference and where the lasting change takes place: “Technology is a wonderful thing, and designers and builders and software engineers can do wonderful things with IT, but taking full advantage of their work requires the vision and enthusiasm of the end-user.”
Microsoft is inspired by ISVs around the world whose passion and people are helping build innovative technology solutions that make a meaningful difference in the world. The company’s goal is to continue enabling ISVs with products, programs and resources to enable them to continue making a difference.
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