Finan Wins $10,000 and a Car in Motorola Essay Competition

January 18, 2006

John Finan, a graduate student at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, has won a $10,000 scholarship and new car from Motorola Inc. for an essay proposing a “Mood Phone” that may be able to interpret the mood of the people speaking by analyzing variations in tone and speech patterns.

Finan was the grand prize winner Jan. 17 of Motorola's first “MOTOFWRD” competition. He was chosen from a pool of entries representing more than 500 students at 220 universities.

Designed to improve social interactions, especially for tens of thousands of people who suffer from a mild form of autism called Asberger's Syndrome, Finan's theoretical "Mood Phone" would light up in a spectrum of color -- from warm reds to cool blues -- based on the verbal patterns of everyday speech received through the handset. Seen through the corner of the eye, the visual stimulus would help users interpret the mood and inflection communicated through the words and phrases they hear.

The biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate's concept was judged to be best among the scores of ideas presented through Motorola's competition that asked college students to envision the future of seamless mobility. Concepts ranged from the fantastic to the practical: mobile technology that could access information, contacts, music and video with the blink of an eye, to location-aware cell phones that could lead to new friendships, inspire public debate, or help identify and book a vacant parking spot in a crowded downtown.

"I entered this competition because I thought Motorola was asking the right question with their theme of seamless mobility," said Finan, a Dublin, Ireland, native. "A new toy can entertain for a time but a new tool that really makes you feel closer to home and freer to move can change behavior, and that is how a revolution begins."

"The Mood Phone is a truly inventive technology solution to a problem most of us wouldn't assume could be answered with a mobile device," said Padamasree Warrior, Motorola's chief technology officer. "If the technology becomes reality, it would make all of our lives easier. But the most important idea here is that these college students who entered the MOTOFWRD competition have truly impressed us with their level of innovation and creativity."

For his grand-prize-winning concept, Finan was presented with $10,000, a Bluetooth enabled BMW and a suite of Motorola products during a New York award ceremony. Finan will also serve an apprenticeship with Motorola's Chief Technology Office focusing on the next generation of Motorola mobile technology. Just like in his winning "Mood Phone" entry, he will be researching how devices that give physical cues enhance user experience.

The entries in the competition were judged by a panel of industry experts including founder of Dennis Crowley, founder of Omar Wasow, futurist Dr. James Canton, youth culture expert DeeDee Gordon and sci-fi authors Cory Doctorow and Catherine Asaro.