Student digs deep for winning design

A mining software package written by a University of Leeds student has won the Pounds 15,000 top prize in the Young Business Software Designer competition.

Chaoshu Xu developed "Minvest" to help users, including mineral resources and mining companies, financial houses and government agencies assess the financial risks involved in new projects.

The principal business benefit of "Minvest" is that it combines expertise from both mining and high finances in a unique way.

Users are taken through a number of variables, including quality and quantity of ore, tax rules and profitability. A model is constructed from the answers, using a series of spreadsheets, grids and graphics to show cash-flow and payback analysis.

Chaoshu Xu, who recently completed a PhD at the department of mining and mineral engineering, impressed the judges particularly because the package was developed to run on IBM compatible PCs, using Zortec C++. But the package was developed without the benefit of the Windows interface.

The designer has market-tested the product among a group of 35 potential users and said he was confident of its commercial future. Dr Xu was presented with Pounds 3,000, a laptop computer and Pounds 10,000 worth of software by Denise Carr, managing director of Computer Associates, the competition sponsor.

The University of Nottingham's cross-disciplinary Virtual Reality Application Research Team (VIRART) took the Best Business Solution award with a package designed to teach a special sign-language, Makaton, to children with learning difficulties, including those with severe disabilities.

"Live-Makaton environments" creates an on-screen world, using IBM compatible PCs, SVGA graphics and a joystick, which allows the teacher to explore the properties of an object such as a television, desk, or ringing telephone.

The split screen shows a moving cartoon figure who demonstrates the sign and the objects in the "computer room".

The teacher can then teach the children about the object using Makaton signs in the real classroom.

The project was developed by Richard Eastgate, Mirabelle D'Cruz, Brendan Collins and Christopher Lee. They received Pounds 1,500 and software worth Pounds 5,000.

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