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Google’s AI hardware, in new hands

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A robot that turns portraits into manga. A vest that helps people navigate. Gloves that transmit the feeling of bird songs. These aren’t props from the set of a Sci-Fi movie, they’re a few of the finalist projects presented in New Orleans during the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST), the premier venue for innovations in human-computer interfaces. 

UIST’s Student Innovation Contest is a forum where university students demonstrate how novel input, interaction, actuation and output technologies can create interactive experiences. UIST partnered with two teams from Google Research, Google Coral and Bio Interfaces, to sponsor the event, the theme of which was Interactive Systems for Social Impact: See, Feel, Hear the Invisible. 

Google Coral’s mission is to build beneficial and privacy preserving AI by providing a platform to strengthen society, improve the environment and enrich lives. One way we do this is by giving students access to the same machine learning hardware and toolchains used by AI researchers and industry practitioners. The Bio Interfaces team focuses on developing AI hardware to help people better communicate and interact with their world. 

Our two teams worked together to provide contest participants with 15 pre-release hardware kits that embed machine learning into custom electronics. Students then used TensorFlow Lite and an assortment of sensors to build machine learning-powered experiences that could use various inputs, such as camera feeds, temperature, atmospheric pressure, ambient light and humidity sensing.

The nine finalist teams had three months to use these kits to create interactive experiences with cardboard prototypes, and the contest had two types of awards: The People’s Choice awards were based on votes from the conference attendees. The Jury’s Choice awards were determined by Jessica Cauchard (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), Alexandra Ion (ETH Zurich) and myself (Google Research). 

Our collaboration with the UIST Student Innovation Contest was an amazing opportunity to support the next generation of researchers to develop inspiring ideas for social impact through machine learning, hardware and interaction techniques. We found it particularly inspiring to see that almost half of the projects were related to accessibility or sustainability.

And now, it could be your turn: The hardware students used in their projects is publicly available and you can get started at Maybe we’ll see your ideas come to life at the next Student Innovation Contest.

Special thanks to the Coral team, especially Ajay K. Nair, Billy Ruthledge, Noli Grutas, Bill Luan, Kirsten Climer, Vikram Tank and Julie Sohn, and to Google Perception for support. Special thanks also to David Lindlbauer and Pascal E. Fortin, the Student Innovation Contest chairs for the collaboration and François Guimbretière, the conference chair. Thanks to all the student teams for their hard work and wonderful projects. Thanks to Molly Moker‎, Daniel Yadin and Beatriz Browne for video documentation and production. 

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