Student boffin is top programmer

stadium-text It is hoped that Sim Stadium will help
in predicting crowd behaviour during the
2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa.
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Kieran Ekron, a computer programming student from Johannesburg University, has won the national leg of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup for an application that simulates crowd behaviour in football stadiums. Ekron will take on his peers for the world title in Poland in July 2010.

The innovative program, called Sim Stadium, can also advise stadium managers and designers on potential critical problems, such as areas that could cause congestion.

Ekron, who entered as a solo contestant, stood firm against the best efforts of 2 463 other hopefuls from 11 universities across the country and took top honours in the Software Design category.

The former Allen Glen pupil now travels to Poland in July, fittingly as the 2010 Fifa World Cup is playing out in his home country, to compete against other whizz-kids for the world title.

Other special awards were given for achievements such as Women in IT; Professional Potential; Latest Use of Technology (lecturer); Number of Entries (lecturer); Design for Development; and Keeper of the Cool.

Modelling crowd behaviour

Ekron’s application simulates the behaviour of a crowd in a football stadium before, during and after a game. Sim Stadium provides information on crowd dynamics in a closed space, through actions such as buying merchandise or refreshments, going to the bathroom, or finding the correct seat. All of these actions, and more, said Ekron, can be modelled on a computer.

It is hoped that Ekron’s innovation will be of use in predicting spectator behaviour during the Fifa World Cup, which kicks off on 11 June in Johannesburg.

“The program, for instance, would be able to simulate what happens during a riot at the stadium, and how long it will take security personnel to get there,” said Ekron.

The Local Organising Committee (LOC) has expressed interest in working with Ekron, should he approach them.

“Security for the World Cup is a national issue,” said spokesperson Rich Mkhondo, “but if we are approached by him, we will consult our partners – the police, Interpol, the government and other agencies – to consider the viability of such a project.”

Mkhondo said the LOC applauded Ekron’s efforts, and that they would consider any initiative that will help make Africa’s biggest sporting event a safer one.

Creativity and innovation

Ekron was not the only big winner on the night. Team Solo from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) walked off with the Game Design and Development prize for their multiplayer, cross-platform arcade game Engage.

Fellow Nelson Mandela students Team Abantu Developaz won the Development category for their EASy (Education Assist System) application. This serves as a resource for teachers and pupils, helping them to prepare their school activities, and interact with each other.

Of the nine major winners – first, second and third in the three main categories – six hail from the NMMU, while another five NMMU teams went home with special category awards.

Clifford de Wit, Microsoft SA’s head of the developer and platform team, said the judges were very impressed by the standard of entries.

“These represent the next generation of technology and business leaders in South Africa,” he said. “Their creativity and innovation demonstrates how technology can make a difference in peoples’ lives in the way we think, work and communicate.”

Students can change the world

The Imagine Cup is sponsored worldwide by technology giant Microsoft and encourages students to apply their talents to creating applications that address real life problems. Students get the added bonus of exposure to the big guns in the information and communications technology sector.

The competition is now in its eighth year and continues to embrace the idea that students can also make a difference, if they focus their creativity and passion on finding practical software solutions for today’s world.

Rounds take place at local and national levels, and there is an online component too. According to Microsoft, competition is intense and enormous talent is exposed as students push themselves to their limits. In 2009 over 200 000 students from 100 countries entered the Imagine Cup.

Since its inception in 2003 the competition’s finals have been held in a different city each year – the inaugural event took place in Barcelona, Spain, followed by Sao Paulo, Brazil (2004); Yokohama, Japan (2005); Delhi, India (2006); Seoul, South Korea (2007); Paris, France (2008); and Cairo, Egypt (2009).

The theme for 2010 is The Eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals. These are a set of guidelines for the implementation of globally accepted human rights such as the right to basic education, the right to healthcare, and gender equality. Targets have been set and the deadline is 2015.

The Millennium Development Goals programme is upheld by 189 nations.