Ten student teams compete for $25,000 prize pool in the Nittany AI Challenge


Nyansapo was one of the top 10 teams selected to move on to build an MVP in the Nittany AI Challenge. The team is using AI to build a solution to increase literacy rates in African countries. Here the team poses for a photo at the Nittany Lion Shrine before COVID-19 restrictions moved the challenge online.

Credit: Nyansapo

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ten student teams will be funded to use AI for Good to build and submit a minimum viable product (MVP) in the Nittany AI Challenge for a chance to compete for a portion of a $25,000 prize pool. Students were invited to submit their ideas to improve the world by providing solutions for problems within the areas of education, health, humanitarian challenges, sustainability and climate change. The challenge is organized by the Nittany AI Alliance, a service of Penn State Outreach.

The 10 teams selected to be funded to build an MVP represent the Penn State Berks, Great Valley, Harrisburg and University Park campuses. The students are enrolled in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, the College of Education, the College of Engineering, the College of Health and Human Development, the College of Information Sciences and Technology, the Smeal College of Business, The Capital College, and the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State.

The students were required to create a prototype and submit a presentation online to a panel of reviewers after the in-person presentations were canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. Brad Zdenek, innovation strategist for the Nittany AI Alliance, said students and reviewers went above and beyond to ensure the Nittany AI Challenge could continue online.

“I am known for speaking loudly and often about the amazing qualities of our students and reviewers, but never have these attributes been more on display than within this period of uncertainty and flux. The top 20 Nittany AI Challenge teams had been preparing since January to demonstrate amazing prototypes to a team of judges, in person,” Zdenek said. “In true Penn State spirit, the teams worked with us to adapt the entire process to an online format that would maintain both the integrity of the reviews and the dynamic, engaging conversations that typically occur between the reviewers and the teams. They demonstrated drive, determination, professionalism and compassion throughout the changes, nimbly adapting their plans and making the best of the new opportunities a virtual environment afforded them. The reviewers, in turn, dedicated many extra hours of their time to deeply engage our students through online discussions and videos.”

The following 10 teams were selected to go on to build an MVP:

  • AI Guide: AI used to help the visually impaired navigate indoors and find objects.
  • Aidly: use of AI to assist nonprofits in volunteer outreach.
  • Bloom: connecting farmers to wholesalers in developing countries.
  • COACT: Cowriting Optimized and Ascended Clinical Trials.
  • Cyclone: smart technology to reduce large-scale energy waste in buildings.
  • Energy Intelligence: reduce energy use by regulating heating, cooling and lighting systems.
  • MedArmor: genetic and AI-based diagnosis and medical cost estimation.
  • Nyansapo: increase literacy rates in African countries.
  • UAS Search and Rescue: object detection to predict locations of lost hikers from aerial imagery.
  • Vessel: build 3D vascular network model to detect tumors and advance artificial tissue growth.

Daren Coudriet, executive director of innovation for Penn State Outreach and director of the Nittany AI Alliance, said all 20 teams that competed displayed incredible solutions to real-world challenges.

"I am extremely pleased with this year's challenge focus on AI for Good and thoroughly impressed with all the teams that competed in the prototype phase,” Coudriet said. “My hope is that all the teams continue to work on their projects and look for opportunities to further their work."

Each of the 10 student teams will receive $1,500 in addition to the $500 they were awarded in the first round of the challenge. They have an opportunity to move on to create MVPs for submission in August and will be eligible for the $25,000 prize pool during the MVP review on Sept. 10, currently scheduled to take place on Penn State's University Park campus.