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GIX student team “SnapSort!” advances to finals of Microsoft Imagine Cup

February 25, 2020

SnapSort! analyzing trash in real-time.

For nearly two decades, students from around the world have competed in the Imagine Cup, Microsoft’s premier international technology competition for young developers, for the chance to win travel, mentoring, cash and prizes, not to mention the coveted trophy.

The SnapSort! team is comprised of members Chun-An Ku, Yun Liu and Joey Wang, graduate students who are studying technology innovation in GIX’s MSTI program under UW ECE lecturer John Raiti. Their team was selected as one of 10 teams to advance in this year’s competition as Americas Regional Finalists. SnapSort! is an intelligent, real-time trash sorting assistant that uses computer vision and machine learning. It offers a better user experience in waste sorting than existing products can provide, and helps people sort compost, recyclables and trash in real-time. The team will participate in a virtual competition next month to pitch their projects live at the regional finals on March 29, where they will compete for $20,000 in prizes and the last two spots in the 2020 World Championships.

The SnapSort! team was also recently awarded a spot to pitch at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) on April 2nd. Teams pitch to 125+ judges from the Seattle community who have expertise in Cleantech and various environmental sectors, entrepreneurs, and investors. The teams then demo their prototypes in a trade show format, with the judges moving around the room asking questions.

Waste generation in the U.S. is three times higher than global averages, and despite recycling campaigns, recycling rates haven’t improved in over 20 years. In initial testing at GIX, SnapSort! improved recycling accuracy from 45% to 82%. ⁣

GIX Snapsort! team

The SnapSort! team of Chun-An Ku, Yun Liu and Joey Wang at GIX’s Steve Ballmer Building


As an interdisciplinary team, Snapsort!’s members believe that a holistic approach that considers all aspects of business, design and technology is critical to creating a successful product. With prior professional experience in landscape architecture, Yun Liu provides expertise in user experience design and sustainability. Szu-Yu Wang, whose background is in electrical and computer engineering, is an entrepreneur and specializes in hardware and software engineering. Finally, Chun-An Ku has a strong background in business from years of experience working in consumer electronics sales and production.⁣

“We spent the whole winter break working on this project and kept improving it this quarter. This is a rewarding experience for all of us.”

Snapsort! class demo

Instructor John Raiti helps demonstrate Snapsort!’s smart recycling capabilities.

SnapSort! analyses trash before being tossed into the appropriate bin.



The Imagine Cup is more than just an annual tech competition, however. It specifically looks for innovative and passion-driven tech solutions from students who want to share their purpose of improving the world around us. Motivated by inspiration and a growing sense of purpose, students have created applications tackling some of the world’s biggest social, environmental and health challenges – one user at a time. From a machine learning algorithm that detects wildfires to a HoloLens app that helps children with dyslexia improve their reading skills, “anything is possible when you blend passion and purpose” says sponsor Microsoft. To date, more than two million young competitors have signed up to build something that matters to them, makes a difference in their communities, and innovates for impact. Best of luck competing in these two competitions, Yun, Joey and Chun-an!⁣

Read more about the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), its unique partnership with UW, its Master of Science in Technology Innovation (MSTI) and other degree, professional, and custom learning programs!