A student team from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo beat out dozens of other teams, from universities across the country, to take the top prize in the 2013 Imagine Cup U.S. Finals in San Jose, California.

The Imagine Cup is sponsored by Microsoft and is considered the world’s premier student technology competition.

UH Hilo students Mike Purvis, Ryder Donahue, Kayton Summers and Wallace Hamada created an app called Help Me Help. The app allows users to share photos and information about hazards they may encounter in emergency situations like fires, floods or roadblocks.

“During disasters, people are often panicked and they might not be able to describe very well over the phone, the exact details of the situation,” said Purvis. “Virtually everyone has a smart phone these days and so that’s really why we want to tap into the camera for this purpose.”

Help Me Help is getting attention nationally and could have a real impact locally.

“We’ve already talked to a local civil defense representative and he said they are very interested in the application, they have ideas in the past that are similar to it,” said Donahue.

UH Hilo administrators and faculty are bursting with pride that a group of UH Hilo students created something to help their own community, and the world. Not bad for an idea that grew out of a senior project to design software that could track native and invasive plant species.

“We realized tracking that kind of information could be applied to a larger scale with more impact,” said Purvis. “So we decided to rewrite our entire idea for disaster response.”

The UH Hilo team will travel to St. Petersburg, Russia for the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in July.

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