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A team of first year University of Ulster students, who developed software to help autistic children with their communication skills, impressed the judges in the national final of a worldwide technology competition. 

The SHAUN (Software Help for Autistic User Needs) team won third place overall after competing in an intense two-day final of the Ireland Imagine Cup 2010 at Microsoft Ireland Dublin and Dublin Institute of Technology last week. 

The Imagine Cup is a global software design and development competition that aims to encourage students to apply their imagination, passion and creativity to create high-tech solutions to international problems. 

Two teams of first year computing students from Ulster’s School of Computing and Information Engineering, Coleraine campus, made it into the last 12 in the Ireland heat.  

Dr Michaela Black, senior lecturer in the School of Computing and Information Engineering, said: “We are absolutely delighted with this result – this team of first year students were competing against final year and Masters students. 

“This type of competition offer students a great experience as a team of developers creating a valuable solution to a real world problem. It was a great achievement for these first year pupils within the School.   

“The dedication of both teams, their mentors and the staff has been fantastic – what a great opportunity for the students’ personal development.”  

The theme of this year’s competition, which is hosted by Microsoft, is "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems". 

The SHAUN team members were: Ciara Murphy from north Belfast, David McFaull from Coleraine, Rebecca Lynam from Derrylin and Gary Marrs (mentor) from Ballymena.    

Mentor Gary Marrs explained: “ The SHAUN software is designed to help autistic children at primary school level develop their communication skills with others. 

“The package aims to help children receive a full primary education and therefore prepare them for secondary learning and their everyday lives. 

“Typically autistic children lack in the areas of social interaction and communication. By introducing SHAUN into special needs schools and mainstream schools we hope to increase the inclusion of autistic children and at the same time improve their educational and social abilities.”

The second University of Ulster team, named ADDS (Aid, Disaster and Distribution System), was: Adam Currie, Carrie-Lynn Kane, Christopher Newton, Jonathon McKinney and mentor Stuart Henry. 

The Imagine Cup continues to encourage students around the globe to imagine a better world in which people are empowered by technology.  

The United Nations has identified some of the hardest challenges in the world today in its Millennium Development Goals — ranging from reducing poverty and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal primary education.