Australian schools shine on world stage in global Imagine Cup Junior AI for Good Challenge

Close up of two students looking at a laptop

Albert Einstein famously claimed that “Imagination is more important than knowledge” – because unlike knowledge, imagination knows no bounds.

The absolute truth of that was on display during the Microsoft 2021 Imagine Cup Junior AI for Good Challenge. Young people from around the world put their heads together and imagined how artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and advanced digital technologies could be used for good.

Often working in teams, and supported by dedicated teachers, the students honed their communication skills, collaboration abilities, critical thinking, and creativity and came up with a breathtaking array of inventive concepts and plans.

Australia boasted 453 submissions to the Challenge from 51 schools, while 1,300 Australian students participated in face-to-face hackathons to explore their ideas in the lead up to the submission date.  The calibre of the entries was exceptional and two of the top 10 global submissions emerged from Australia to shine on the world stage:

  • CORRA from Adelaide’s St Aloysius’ College is a “Companion Obedient Response Robot,” designed to interact and support children with autism in the form of a robot doll that can be with them at all times; and,
  • SMSR from Hurlstone Agriculture High School in NSW is a “Smart Mobile Sanitising Robot” linked to an app designed to deliver fabric sanitary pads to women in India. The app tracks the woman’s cycle, and the bot delivers products when needed, and picks up used pads and cleans and sanitises them.

Tiffany Wright, Director Education, Microsoft Australia congratulated the two Australian schools that ranked among the Global Top 10, adding; “The Imagine Cup Junior AI for Good Challenge took place during a truly extraordinary year for students and teachers here and around the world. In true Australian spirit, we were delighted to find that enthusiasm and creativity was undimmed.

“Provided with the opportunity to build their digital skills, often working together in highly collaborative and creative teams, they came up with many outstanding ideas proving that imagination simply can’t be locked down. It’s been an inspirational Challenge once again, and my sincere thanks to all the schools, teachers, students, parents and guardians for their commitment and enthusiasm.”

Working teams of one to six, students in Years 7-12 participating in the Challenge learned about artificial intelligence as well as Microsoft’s ethical approach to AI, and imagined how AI, robotics, and machine learning could be applied to real world social, cultural, health or environmental challenges.

Education Changemakers supported the Challenge by developing innovative content and curriculum that was made freely available to participating schools. Aaron Tait, Chief Innovation Officer, Education Changemakers said; “Today’s students are part of a rapidly changing world, and it is important that they are engaging and truly understanding some of the most cutting-edge technologies. This Challenge offers them the chance to collaborate in teams on real passion projects, and imagine how they could harness AI, robotics and machine learning to make a genuine impact for people in their community and around the world.”

“It’s always inspiring to see the effort that the teachers and school community put into these ideas, and the learning outcomes that linger long after the final submissions are entered. Congratulations all.”

Robert Blair, Head of Digital Technologies at St Marks Anglican Community College in Perth organised a hack for a cohort of 180 students in Year 7. 

The program is amazing. The Year 7 students got so much out of the hackathon. Thank you to the Imagine Cup Junior team for an amazing year and really making a difference to many students. 

Travis Smith, K-12 Education Industry Lead, Microsoft Australia was a judge for this year’s Challenge and stressed the exceptional calibre of the entries and ideas. “The world that these children will emerge into is one they are going to help design. Based on the quality and creativity on display in this year’s Challenge submissions I feel extremely optimistic about the future.

“The participating teams were very diverse and I believe that had a lot to do with the highly inclusive ideas that emerged, many with accessibility at their very heart. It’s been an absolute privilege to be involved in this again and my sincere thanks to the dedicated teachers who continue to ensure the success of this initiative.”

Lee Hickin, National Technology Officer, Microsoft Australia agreed on the critical role that teachers played, both in supporting students participating in the Challenge – but also more broadly to build interest and ability in STEM.

“Digital technology is one half of the innovation equation – real success comes from the application of that technology in thoughtful and inventive ways, and that comes down to the way people use technology to create solutions with lasting impact. With AI, its value comes in its application to a real world need and the ethical and responsible way in which its impact is considered– and the students responded to that.

“I was overwhelmed by the deep thinking that was on display in many of the submissions, and the genuine imagination and creativity that teams brought to bear. We asked students to apply themselves to some of the major challenges that we face today – and they came through with flying colours. I know that as these students complete their studies and enter the workforce they will have the skills and commitment that will make a real difference to the world around them for generations to come. Congratulations all.”