The cream of South Africa's computer programming students will descend on the Drakensberg town of Winterton next week for the first leg of the Imagine Cup 2009, a Microsoft-sponsored technology competition which pits the world's best student programmers against each other.

The preliminary leg of the competition takes place on 3-4 December at the Champagne Sports Resort. The finalists will vie for a place in the global Imagine Cup finals in Egypt in July 2009.
Last year's winners, University of Cape Town students Devin de Vries, Christopher King, Nabeel Nazeer and Nadeem Isaacs, went on to win an award at the worldwide finals of the competition in Paris in October for their "WhereIsMyShuttle?" application, which uses satellite navigation devices to provide bus information directly to commuters by SMS.
Now in its seventh year, the Imagine Cup challenges the world's best student programmers to create applications to solve real-world problems. More than 200 000 students from 100 countries entered the competition in 2008. In all, 213 competitors from 112 teams representing over 60 countries attended the worldwide finals in Paris, France in October 2008.
The theme for the 2009 edition of the competition is "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems facing us today".
Last year's local runner-up, Nathan Naidoo of the University of the Western Cape, created an application called Shark Spotta, which uses sophisticated pattern recognition technology linked to fixed cameras to detect shark activity in popular swimming areas, and alert lifeguards.
"It's absolutely inspiring to see what these students can do. They demonstrate an amazing combination of passion and creativity while using technology to solve real world problems," says Microsoft SA's Developer and Platform head David Ives. "Technology can be the force that transforms great ideas into real world solutions.  And that's the point of the Imagine Cup every year – to use technology to make a difference."
This year, students will compete in nine categories, ranging from software design and games development to challenges involving algorithms and programming. Students' work will reflect valuable solutions that give a helping hand to the world's sustainable environmental issues while giving them the opportunity to compete for generous cash prizes.