By Gregory Pings, manager of Content Marketing for Xerox

I’ll go out on a limb and guess that a conference — complete with keynote talks and peer-reviewed colloquiums — isn’t what most students consider a good time. But it might be if that conference challenged them to think big enough to design a technical or business solution that could impact at least one million people.

That got my attention too.

Welcome to the latest edition of Xerox Research Centre India’s annual Open Innovation exchange (XRCI Open), held in Bangalore, India, on January 22 – 23. This two-day, idea exchange attracted some of the keenest minds in India.

A  24-hour hackathon (held several months ago) drew more than 400 computer science students from six campuses of the Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Science. One winning team from each participating campus was chosen to work with Xerox researchers on innovative solutions for emerging market challenges.

Students were expected to look for challenges within a particular domain such as healthcare, transportation or education. After defining the problem (for example, limited availability of doctors in rural areas) they worked with a one of our scientists to build a prototype solution.

Read more about XRCI Open ’15 here.

Winning Ideas

The team from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur won with their idea to reduce the response time of ambulances in emergency situations. Their  software solution not only takes into account the distance from the nearest ambulance, but also how long it will take to make the trip at any given time. The time factor is important in the metropolitan cities of India where a shorter distance does not necessarily imply less time to destination. The vehicular congestion in these cities plays the most critical role in making decisions about traffic management.

Not that the judges’ selection was easy. Competing solutions ranged from finding interesting ways to manage the traffic lights on a busy day, to creating an auto planner for traveling doctors who see patients in remote areas. Each team presented the effectiveness of their technique via a simulation or a prototype, which made the challenge more competitive.

Good things happen when you ask people to think big enough to impact one million lives. And while it’s not likely that you’ll see me at an industry-academia conference near you, I won’t be so quick to dismiss it outright.

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