Colombians were among the winners of Google’s Latin American research awards this week. In a ceremony that took place in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, over 300 academics competed for funding opportunities for their research projects, thanks to Google’s Faculty Research Awards programme that supports studies in computer science and engineering.
Of all the Latin American countries recognised for their efforts, Brazil was the most successful nation, receiving 17 awards. Colombia won a total of five prizes with the other honorees being Argentina, winning two, and both Mexico and Peru, that picked up one award apiece.
According to a Google representative who spoke to EFE news agency, each of the projects were independently verified by 40 engineers from the Belo Horizonte Google Centre for Engineering.
The 26 awards equate to a total prize money of US $535,000, which will go towards financing the academic research projects and will be paid out over the course of a year, split between the researcher and their faculty.
Speaking to Colombian weekly Semana, Berthier Ribeiro-Neto (director of the Google Engineering Centre where the awards ceremony took place) said that the idea behind it was “to support and promote projects centred around solving problems of the common man in Latin America.”
Prizewinning research areas span across fields of machine learning, data mining, human-computer interaction and mobile devices, among many more.
Of the five Colombian award winners, research proposals included MotherNet, a platform for detecting pregnancy complications for women, led by Edna Rocío Bernal Monroy and Sixto Campana Bastidas from Bogotá’s Universidad Nacional.
Other Colombians rewarded for their efforts were Winston Spencer Percybrooks and Pedro Narváez, of Barranquilla’s Universidad del Norte, whose investigations into machine learning algorithms are intended to help diagnose cardiac illnesses. A visual aid system for the blind designed by Eduardo Francisco Caicedo Bravo and Andrés Alejandro Díaz Toro of Cali’s Universidad del Valle was one of the other award recipients within the field of healthcare.
Bogotá’s Universidad de los Andes was the faculty behind two prizes. The first, for computing models that aid economic cooperation in low-income communities, was created by Luis Felipe Giraldo and Gilberto José Díaz García, who aim for a better understanding of community dynamics and to provide strategies for development. The second was a software designed to automate software engineering work for Android apps, spearheaded by Mario Linares Vásquez and Camilo Escobar Velásquez.
Worth noting, however, is the fact that of the 26 award winners, only five were women. On this topic, director Ribeiro-Neto told Brazilian newspaper Hoje Em Dia that increasing diversity was a “topic they frequently debated” at the Google HQ. “What we see is that the number of female students in computing and engineering is still very low,” he said.