IEEE/IBM Watson Student Contest Wants App Developers

Teams get access to the cognitive computing system and can win cash prizes

8 July 2015

IEEE student members: Do you want access to IBM’s Watson supercomputer and the chance to win cash prizes for building apps with it? Then dust off your coding skills and enter the IEEE/IBM Watson Student Showcase. The new competition is for teams from around the world to develop mobile apps using IBM’s cognitive computing system.

IBM Watson, made famous in 2011 by its win over human contestants on the TV game show “Jeopardy,” is a computing system that learns as it answers questions. It can be taught in various ways: by its users, from its own experience, or by feeding it new information, including that gleaned from the Internet. Some developers have used it to process medical data and patient symptoms to assist doctors in making medical diagnoses. Others have used it in education to figure out which areas students are struggling with to help improve graduation rates. “There are tons of possible applications in terms of agriculture, energy, and sustainability as well,” says Wendy Murphy, manager of IBM Global University Programs. “The field is wide open.”

The contest gives students the opportunity to come up with their own ways to use Watson. “The mobile app can be anything you want it to be,” says Burt Dicht, director of university programs for IEEE Educational Activities, in Piscataway, N.J. “It could be a game, something to help people when they travel, or a program related to education. Anything.”


Access to Watson is expensive, but teams competing in the contest will get free access to the computer system for 30 days through IBM’s Bluemix app development platform.

Teams may consist of two to five undergraduate or graduate students, at least one of whom must be an IEEE student member. Team members must include at least one whose discipline lies outside of engineering. “We want people to learn about multidisciplinary teamwork,” Dicht says. “This will help students understand the skill sets they’ll need once they become working engineers.”

IBM representatives will be available during the contest to help students learn how to use Watson and develop their apps. “We’ll have resources online as well as ‘office hours’ where people can ask questions,” says Murphy.

In addition to building the app itself, each team must submit a one-page summary covering the purpose of the app, including what it does; what problem the team wants to solve or what it wants to invent or create; what value the app provides; and the target users. In addition, teams must submit along with its source code a 1- to 2-minute video demonstration of the app.

Judges will include IEEE members and IBM staffers. They will judge each entry according to the originality of its idea, its feasibility, its usefulness, and the creativity it displays. Teams whose apps win will receive cash prizes of US $2,000. The deadline to apply is 30 September. As many as 10 of the cash prizes could be awarded.


All intellectual property remains with the students. But their efforts need not end once the contest is over. The students can release their apps on their own or look for a partner to help them. And “if somebody wants to start a business, there’s a way for them to connect with IBM, if it’s the right match,” says Murphy.

The contest is now open to entries. Winners will be announced in October.

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