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UK students win top prize in Microsoft global tech challenge

UK students have won a top $50,000 (£33,000) cash prize in Microsoft's global technology innovation competition.

Alex Bochenski, Jonathan Neuman, Edward Noel and Rob Parker got together at regional heats at Exeter University and formed the soundSYNK project as part of Team Colinked.

The team developed a mobile phone app that allows music across multiple devices to be synched and played together.

The idea was born from the Imagine Cup regional heats held at Exeter University. This is where the team met and the idea was hatched. It all started on a Saturday night, running into 2am in the morning.

"Caffeine fuelled and desperate for a strong idea to win the regionals, we fell to the aid of music to inspire us. Little did we know this would be the future of an amazing adventure," said the team for their entry.

"We were playing 'Sweet Nothings' by Calvin Harris on Alex's laptop and it was just not loud enough for our liking. Being students we wanted to have a little rave but the volume was not sufficient," they said.

"At this point we did the age old technique of lining up all our phones, laptops and tablets, trying to play the song at the same time. But due to our poor timing skills it failed miserably, but caused us to instantly realise this is a great idea!"

Coders Parker and Neuman did some research on developing the idea, and Noel and Bochenski searched the Internet "desperate not to find someone who had already done this". The team said, "Luckily, no one had and soundSYNK was born".

The team developed a prototype of the product in 24 hours for the regionals of the Imagine Cup.

Bochenski said, "We hope to create a new mesh networking system between smartphones with our technology. Imagine being able to connect a stadium full of people and play music and sounds through all their smartphones at the same time!"

Eighty-seven student teams from 71 countries competed in the worldwide finals after winning local and online competitions. Microsoft awarded cash and other prizes valued at more than $1 million to winning teams, including Colinked, in St Petersburg, Russia earlier this month, after the year-long Imagine Cup competition.

The Colinked app won the team the Innovation category prize, and allows an "impromptu social network" to be created through bluetooth and WiFi, creating a form of "mesh networking".

"When users connect their phones together, they have the ability to play the same song on all devices in perfect harmony, all working through known delays and pre-determined time intervals, " the team said of their app.

The team has so far tested the app on 75 devices and it will be available across all platforms in August.

The app will get its biggest test at the end of August when it will be showcased at a performance at the Reading Festival, attended by up 80,000 people.