First-year undergrad wins international Microsoft competition

Jun 21, 2019

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Computer science major designed non-invasive, smart-phone based system to help diabetes patients monitor glucose levels.

When Bryan Chiang (exp. ’22) entered his project in the 2019 Microsoft Imagine Cup, he did not expect to win. But the project, inspired by his diabetic grandmother, received the top prize in the international student innovation contest in which thousands participated.

The competition, sponsored by Microsoft Corp., is considered by many as a premiere global challenge for student developers to help resolve some of the world’s toughest challenges.

“I graduated high school last June and I went back to Taiwan to visit my grandparents,” he said. “Since I hadn’t visited them in a decade, I was surprised to find out my grandmother had diabetes.”

Chiang, a computer science major who just completed his first year, set out to find an easier way for diabetic patients to monitor their blood glucose levels.

Standard monitoring requires blood from a pin prick to analyze glucose levels. Chiang focused his project on taking a picture of the eye since subtle changes in the shape of the iris can be correlated with glucose levels.

His project, called “EasyGlucose,” consists of two components: hardware and software. He developed a non-invasive, low-cost eye imaging adapter that can snap onto a smartphone and take high-quality images of the eye.

His software is a computer vision deep learning framework that he developed from scratch to predict blood glucose levels from the image. They both interface together with an iOS mobile app that he wrote.

Chiang found out about the competition by googling “innovation competition,” and the Microsoft Imagine Cup came up. The first stage of the competition was an online submission, which he wrote a 10-page proposal for. 

The next stage included 12 regional finalists from North and South America who presented their projects to a panel of judges.

The global stage of the competition was held in May at the annual Microsoft Build conference in Seattle where the top final three teams presented their projects. Chiang said this was the shortest of the three stages, but it was still nerve-wracking.

In spite of his nerves, Chiang took the top prize over teams from the United Kingdom and India. He received $100,000, a mentorship session with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and $50,000 in computing credit.

Chiang said he is planning on continuing the project, and investing his prize money back into the project app. This summer, he will be in the Bay Area conducting further trials and gathering more data with the aim of getting his project in a peer-reviewed journal and looking into obtaining regulatory approvals.

Chiang’s best advice to other students looking to enter the competition is to take risks with their projects.

“Don’t do projects you are sure are going to work,” he said. “You want to do things nobody has done before, and if you think it may work but you’re not really sure if it will work—those projects tend to do the best. I thought I had a 5% chance that it would work and it ended up working.”

Experience also helps. Chiang said he participated in science fairs in high school, and said the Microsoft competition’s setup is very similar. He recommends participating in science fairs or hackathons to get experience being comfortable making presentations and pitching projects.

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