Two MIT Groups Win $275K Google Android Top Prize

(Updated–see Hal Abelson and Clare Bayley comments below:) Google announced the winners of the first round of its Android Developer Challenge yesterday—and at least two teams with core members from MIT (one also had a Harvard member) were among the 10 teams taking home the $275,000 top prize.

The teams were selected from 50 finalists picked last spring. And in addition to the top 10 big winners, Google also announced 10 other teams that each took home $100,000. We couldn’t find any local groups in that list, although not all the winner bios were published, and it has proven difficult to locate the backgrounds of all 20 winners.

One of the 275K winners, called Locale, is an offshoot of an experimental course taught by legendary MIT professor Hal Abelson, assisted by Andrew Yu, a manager in the school’s Information Services and Technology office. Eric Carlson, of New England-based ConnectedBits, mentored the team, whose members include junior Clare Bayley and just-graduated seniors Carter Jernigan, Jasper Lin and Christina Wright, along with Jennifer Shu, an MIT graduate already working as a software engineer.Locale screen shot

Locale allows cell-phone and other mobile-device users to manage settings so that they automatically change depending on their current location. One example might be that your phone automatically goes silent or switches to vibrate when you’re in a class or meeting room. If you’re at home, calls might be automatically forwarded to your landline, where you might have a better connection. According to Locale’s description in the Android Gallery: “Users specify locations, times, and other conditions to trigger on. Location conditions utilize Android’s location API for high precision GPS positioning.” You can read more here.

Update, Aug. 29 1pm: I just reached Hal Abelson at his home. He said he had learned about the Locale team win yesterday through an e-mail from one of the team members, but had not yet spoken to any of the students. “It’s just terrific news,” he says. All told, six teams took part in the course. “I thought all of the projects were successful,” he says. “All of them actually produced things that worked, which was amazing to me…They only had four months to come up with an idea and build it and implement it…It was a pretty intense experience.” You can find all the MIT projects here.

Update 2–Aug. 29, 3:25 pm: This afternoon I reached Clare Bayley, the only Locale member who’s still an MIT student. “I’m pretty happy,” she says. “It’s been a strenuous summer but the payoff was worth it.” Bayley says that while none of the team members will be working full time on Locale, they do plan to get it fine-tuned by the planned Q4 launch of the first phones running Android. “Our main goal is to get ready for release,” she says. “We definitely want to ship when the first phones come out.”

The other big winner was Wertago, described as “the creation of five friends (and mobile-technology enthusiasts) spread out across the country—New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area—coordinating their effort almost entirely through Google Mail, Talk, and Docs.”

But while they don’t live in Boston, all of those friends have strong local ties. Team members Teresa Ko, now a doctoral student at UCLA, Kelvin Cheung, and Peter Ree, all have undergrad and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT. Meanwhile, Robert Sarvis, now a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., area, studied math at Harvard. The fifth team member, Douglas Yeung, graduated from MIT with a B.S. in management science, went on to get a PhD in psychology from Rutgers, and is now a behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation.

According to its Android page description: “Wertago is the mobile application nightlifers have been waiting for—a single application that shows you up-to-the-second information about what venues are hot, helps you coordinate plans with all your friends, lets you share content and influence the social scene, and enables you to connect with socialites all across the city. Nightlife will never be the same!”

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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