NU SEDS student Edige Akimali wоn Big Idea Challenge 2022

His project “Soyles” was recognized as the best in the Social Impact category and became the National Champion.

An international video pitching competition supported by the British Council, the Big Idea Challenge, aims to encourage young people from the Creative Spark program countries to develop an innovative ‘startup’ and tell the world about it. The creative Spark program is a five-year initiative that helps youth to build enterprise skills and a creative economy across seven countries in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan), South Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia) and Ukraine.

Young people between 18 and 35 years old are eligible to participate individually or in teams. The winner is determined in three categories: Social Impact, Creativity and Digital technologies.

Edige Akimali is a freshman at the N.U. School of Engineering and Digital Sciences (NU SEDS), majoring in Computer Science. He told us about his project “Soyles,” winner in the Social Impact category.

Edige, congratulations on your double win and enrolment at Nazarbayev University. Please tell us why you chose the School of Engineering and Digital Science. 

Honestly, during the foundation year, I hesitated between a Math major in SSH and Computer Science in SEDS. Initially, I considered becoming a data scientist and thought the Math major would be a suitable choice. But, during the foundation year, I chose the research topic of Artificial Intelligence. The more I read about it, the more interested I became. Finally, when I discovered that our University has a strong A.I. research basis with ISSAI and is equipped with supercomputers for machine learning, I was confident in my Computer Science choice. It is a great opportunity in our country to research A.I., and I would like to work on it in the future.

Please tell us about your project.

Once, when I was reading materials for a research project, an idea popped into my mind. Luckily, I have written it in my notes. After half a year, when I saw the Big Idea Challenge, I understood that it was the way I could realize this idea. The core idea is to use computer vision to translate sign language into text or audio through the mobile phone camera. A mobile app will be accessible without implemented advertisements. Our voice and text will be converted into a video with sign language. There are similar projects around the world, such as the Brazilian startup “Hand Talk App”, which won support from Google. But it translates only text into sign language but cannot work in the opposite direction. I will not say this idea will be the first, but we want to make it the most convenient.

You won the Social Impact category. Usually, such projects contribute to the development of our society. Why did you participate in this category, and what problem do you want to solve?

I think the decision to make such a mobile app did not come out accidentally. Maybe it was linked with my childhood when I had a problem with one ear hearing loss. Thanks to my parents, now everything is fine, but I cannot imagine how many barriers deaf-muted people face daily in basic service. Our long-term goal is to contribute to diminishing the gap in society.

What are the next steps?

Currently, the project is in the ideation stage, and of course, there are tons of work. Our team consists of three people, and I am looking for a couple of like-minded people. We will work with the guidance of a London Metropolitan University Accelerator mentor. We plan to create an initial model and test it with real people within half a year.

Your project “Soyles” became the winner in the category “Social impact” and the Champion of the country. You probably already have a recipe for a successful contest. Could you share it with our readers?

I would not claim that what worked for me would work for everyone. It would be a survivorship bias. However, I think the idea should be global and have a couple of potential evolutionary paths.