A team from Nepal making all the way to the top beating the world’s best universities like Harvard, Stanford, and many more in the category of Artificial Intelligence–one of the most advanced technology.
Milan Thapa from College of Information Technology and Engineering, Eeda Rijal from Nepal Engineering College and Shishir Shrestha from Madan Bhandari Memorial College, a team of three called SochWare, bagged the title in 16th Annual Microsoft Imagine Cup 2018 under AI (Artificial Intelligence) category. Team SochWare had made a mobile app called ‘E-Agrovet’ that detects the diseases in plants and recommends remedies along with expert advice. They outshined among 49 teams from all over the world under the AI category in the US.
Team Sochware has not only outshined in the Imagine Cup but has given a sense of hope, encouragement to all the students in our country. A hope that one could follow their passion and make it come true here in our country, Nepal. They have proven that passion and a will to do something can make anything happen. For they were from regular colleges in Kathmandu with a determination to implement their knowledge in the field of agriculture, a field that our country is dependent on, and make lives easier with technology.
“SochWare is simply an idea; a combination of ideas, hardware, and software together forming innovations. Innovations for greater goods through technology. We have worked on it for a year and a half now, but it has been recently registered. We were officially registered on 28th Feb 2018.”–Team Sochware
How was the team of three formed?
“It was a long journey for Sochware. We were all from different fields of IT. We first met as MSPs (Microsoft Student Partners). In that duration, there were a number of students around us, but we had a common passion for the technology and uplifting it in the country; that’s how three of us met. One day we had to form a team for the pre-accelerator program, that’s when we formed a team of three. That was a turning point for all three of us. Since then, we are on a journey to uplift the technology in our country.”–Team Sochware
How did you come up with the idea?
“Our main focus was always on IOT (Internet of Things), ML (Machine Learning) and AI (Artificial Intelligence). Our country being an agricultural land, and our family being from that particular field, we always had a dream of making their lives easier through the use of technology.
Firstly, we came up with an automation system focused on closed boundary farming. Here, one could just sow the seed of a particular plant and then let the system look after it. With the help of IoT devices, it would record and update all the information of the plants in that enclosed farm. One could view their plants and get an update on it through a mobile application. Everything worked on automation. That was the initial project.
After that, we looked for different problems that were faced by the farmers in the agricultural field where we could be helpful. That’s when an idea sparked among us; with the research work, mentorship and other resources, we came to know about how the plants could have been harmful to the user if they are septic, and there were no experts to give advice around.
That’s when E-Agrovet hit us. E-Agrovet is a mobile application that a farmer can use where it captures the picture of the plant and finds out what disease it has got and ways to mitigate it. With it, one can even connect with the experts and get ways to prevent it accordingly.
We are really attached to it as we can see the increment of chemicals in the field of farming. If a farmer comes up with a problem, what he does is goes to a shop nearby and then gets chemical suggested by the shopkeeper, who doesn’t really have much knowledge on it. So what we want is for them to have an expert advice for their problem. This wouldn’t just solve the problems of farmers, but the environment, entire human health.”
Imagine Cup Journey
Being a part of MSP, Imagine Cup was a common term for them. They had known about how every year Microsoft had held a competition called Imagine Cup, where teams from all over the world would come and showcase their product. Nepal too had participated in the previous competition but wasn’t successful to grab the title.
They really wanted to bag the title like all the MSPs, but they were baffled among themselves. Confused among themselves–Milan, Sishir, and Eeda had conversations about whether to participate or not. However, on the day of the deadline, they finally thought of giving it a try. On the day of submission, without wasting any time, they came up with a presentation and submitted it a couple of minutes before the deadline.
After a month or so, they got a mail saying they were selected. Unsure of the fact, they confirmed it with their mentors the next day and they assured them.
“When we got the mail, we didn’t really have a complete application. We had an idea and a rough app. We just had 15 days for the making process; all we had was research files from the old work and motivation from our mentors and closed ones. It was a great challenge and we didn’t lose hope. Finally, after 15 days, we had a complete mobile app with a complete solution with ML embedded. Those 15 days with the sleepless night, escaping colleges, exams; we were finally on a point where we had a complete app.”–Sochware
After the selection, team Sochware headed to Malaysia for Regional Finals; there were 15 different teams from 9 different countries including Sri-Lanka and Nepal from Southeast Asia. Team Sochware had a fine product, but at the same time, they were nervous after seeing people from different countries. Nonetheless, they nailed it and got to the Top 7.
“We got to Top 7. We were so excited; we seemed more excited than the ones who had won the Regional Finals. It was like an encouragement and hope to the people all over Nepal. ”–Sochware
After the regionals, they had 3 months for World Final. They had a complete product in hand, but they knew that wouldn’t have been enough for their way to the top. They changed the architecture completely and played around with different forms and other features. Finally, they made it happen with pressure alongside. With the right mentors and guidance, they made it happen. They had a complete solution which was tested, verified, validated, market analyzed, everything.
“Sachin sir is like a father to us; his dedication to our work was great. Like us, even he along with other mentors had had sleepless nights.”–Sochware
Finally, they headed to the Imagine Cup with a great pride, they were confident but looking at their competitors got them cold feet. Yet, they gave their best and got selected for Top 6 in the AI category and Top 15 in general.
“Finally, during the last day of the competition, we were video chatting with the mentors as they were announcing the name of the winners. We were showing our mentor the scene that was going on, and talking to them and finally, we heard the presenter saying “All over from Nepal—Sochware”. Out of excitement, we jumped off our seat handed the phone to a friend and went to the stage. That was one of the proudest moment as we had beat other nations on the most advanced technology at the moment—Artificial Intelligence; it was a great achievement. We proved the point we weren’t less. We hope to encourage the people who look up to such events and not think less of themselves.
We won the AI category this year, but we hope some team from Nepal would go there and bring the Imagine Cup to Nepal.”–Sochware
“It’s not our achievement, but Nepal’s. An encouragement to all the tech student like us.”—Milan Thapa
“When we won, I couldn’t believe it. There were a number of reputed, renowned universities and some from the top tech colleges, and we standing there with the award was just amazing. We made proud our country, family, friends and which brought a sensation of pride.”–Sishir Shrestha
“When we got back from the stage, I still couldn’t believe the fact that the award was in our hands, that we had bagged that title. I remembered Ravi saying that the AI category was ours, we will be grabbing the title. And we were doing something for the country, people usually say we as a country are degrading one or the other, but here we have done something to uplift the country through tech.”–Eeda Rijal
“We were in the third row and when they announced the winner, we were right next to the stage. I don’t really remember how we got there in that short period of time. There were 49 teams from different nations, but all I could see was people from Nepal; my family, friends, mentors, who bid us good luck as we left for the competition; it felt like we had won the award amidst them. Every time we had presented our presentation with a warm Namaste, and when had won, everyone one of them greeted us with Namaste which was overwhelming.”–Milan Thapa