James Cameron and Craig Mundie were two of those in attendance at yesterday’s awards ceremony. (What?) Photo from Microsoft.

Full disclosure: Microsoft flew me out to Washington, D.C. for the weekend and put me up in a hotel.

D.C. would be all-for-nought if we didn’t report on the actual winners of the competition. Throughout the course of the weekend, my faith in the student population of the world has been once again reinvigorated. It is refreshing to see so many brains are solving real and complicated problems. While it may be no surprise to you, dear reader, that the writers of HackCollege are currently the smartest students walking the face of the planet, it pains me to say that I have discovered stiff competition. I witnessed such competition at the hands of the Imagine Cup U.S. Finals.

The Imagine Cup has been around since 2003, but has only been a worldwide competition recently. This year, the competition is drawing more than 300,000 students from 150 countries. (They have the HackCollege audience beat by seven countries. Drat!) Over this weekend I got to see the best the United States has to offer (at least those using the Microsoft stacks for their projects).

I got the chance to catch up with the top 4 teams and chat with them a little bit throughout the weekend. They come from all over and all have great projects. Although not all of them will be going to Poland in July for the worldwide competition, they all have great projects. Check them out!

3rd Place:Blob Multitouch Designer by Team Blob

Team Blob from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology shows off their multitouch framework.

Team Blob comes straight out of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. They were one of the all-female teams competing at U.S. Finals this year. Their project is a “multitouch presentation framework” designed in “an effort to bring emerging multitouch technology into K-12 classrooms.” Essentially, it’s a suite of tools for teachers to design touchable class material around.

From a business standpoint, these girls got it down. It’s much smarter to create a platform than a single end-user application. They had their demo running on the Dell Studio 17, a touchscreen laptop. They also have the capability to run their software on larger and cheaper laser light plane monitors. The demonstration videos of those were awesome. The technical aspects of the project were not the most advanced to be seen at the competition and the public’s fervor over multitouch has died down into a certain expectancy. Thus, Team Blob received third place.

2nd Place: Aidventure by Extraplaid

Josh Light from team Extraplaid had one of the most theatric presentations of their project, Aidventure.

Extraplaid hails from Utah State University and have a potentially ground-breaking Facebook application. Their app, Aidventure, will attempt to integrate micro-lending into Facebook. As the foreman of their group put, “Why spend a dollar on a cow in Farmville when you can spend a dollar on a real cow in Peru?” Good point, kind sir.

Their presentation suffered bit during their Q&A when some of their bold facts about competitors were challenged by the panel. The group would have been better off (and might have won), if they had spent less time talking trash on other systems and more time discussing their own project. Currently the business is pending SEC approval, but you can expect to start participating soon. HackCollege will be keeping tabs on Aidventure, that’s for sure.

1st Place: Light Alert by MangoBunnies

Team Mango Bunnies took home first place (not the grand prize) for their real-time crime alert system, Light Alert.The MangoBunnies is a team from different universities throughout the state of Indiana. They are the other all-female team represented at the U.S. Finals. Their software hit on the the hype surrounding social networks and location-based applications. Their application, Light Alert, is a crime alert system that alerts users when they entire high-crime areas.

Fresh off of a panel discussing the “real time Internet,” I think the up-to-the-second capabilities of this software could quickly become another method of crime prevention. They discussed combing Twitter to find newly committed crimes without a police report. (Some people Tweet about getting mugged.) One thing’s for sure: these girls are on top of their s-word. They should look into providing their data in an open layer on the SimpleGeo service. (Disclosure: I have friends at SimpleGeo.)

Grand Prize: MobiLife

Team Mobilife struts up to the stage to receive their grand prize award.

Expect these guys to change the world. Seriously. There’s more coming out of San Diego these days than great surfing. (The team is from UCSD.) Mobilife is the perfect blend of a great idea and a simple execution. It’s a mobile app that makes it easy to diagnose pulmonary illnesses (like diabetes) using the phone’s camera. The operator takes a picture of the cornea and compares it against a database or can do limited analysis on the device itself. To prove how easy it was in their presentation, they had one of the judges “diagnose” one of the presenters with sickle-cell anemia. Mind-blowing. Blood tests and invasive procedures be gone. The simplicity and no-duh-ness of the solution made the Mobilife team stand out from the crowd. Their humility also helps.

I had the chance to run into two of their team members again at Reagan National Airport before US Airways completed forked all semblance of my itinerary. I got a chance to see what makes the team tick. Their team makeup is serendipitous. Each of the team members is complementary to the other: one biologist, one software engineer and one business gal. Each of their skills and insights were heard throughout the presentation in one cohesive product.

For winning the grand prize in D.C., they will be moving onto the worldwide competition in Warsaw, Poland. To date, the U.S. has yet to bring home the Imagine Cup crown. Of all of the teams I saw this weekend, this is definitely the best the U.S. has to offer. Go Team Mobilife, you’ve got the support of HC.

Check out the teams and leave your thoughts on the Imagine Cup in the comments!

Follow Kelly Sutton on Twitter.