It’s almost time for our annual Hackathon and in preparation for this year’s #Insumhack19, we caught up with Trent Schafer (may or may not be the guy in the photo), the captain of last year’s winning Hackathon team. We sat down for an interview and a little inspiration for our current teams.
Last Year’s Winning Project
Last year’s hackathon theme was Echo, the personal assistant or “smart speaker” developed by Amazon. Teams were required to develop an application that worked with the Echo. As always, the teams involved in InsumHack must build their applications with Oracle APEX, the rapid application development platform that comes with the Oracle Database at no extra cost as it is covered under its license.
The winners, dubbed “The Mighty Morphin’ APEX Rangers”, devised an application based one team member’s experience using flash cards when studying at university. Their invention, called “Study Buddy” had Alexa in the role of a tutor, asking questions, listening for the response and letting the student know if they were correct or not. The application could make studying more fun as well as free up valuable parental time. Parents could also add questions as well as get a report on the student’s progress.
Trent, you were in Last Year’s winning hackathon team, but did your group expect to be in the running?
TS: Well, we thought it was a pretty good Idea. One of the criteria that we were judged on was “would you use an echo at home with this application” and for all of us, the answer was definitely yes!
I saw your team’s presentation. It was a very convincing idea. When I went home after the presentations, I told my kids about your team’s idea and the first thing they said was: “I’d like that! Siri doesn’t do that!” Such a simple Idea. Was it hard to come up with?
TS: Well, to be honest, we were apprehensive about the theme. We’d never been into IoT (Internet Of Things) so we tried to focus on something simple but useful. At first, we had some ideas of some sort of an extension to Spotify that could play music that friends or colleagues may be listening to. Or something around the idea of connecting to a personal calendar. But the Idea that our team stuck on came from the fact that I was taking a French course at the time and I never seemed to have the chance to practice with someone. So, we thought, well, what if we could make a time-saving device by combining studying with another activity, like cooking?
It would be like having another person with you doing the flashcards…
TS: Yeah, exactly. (laughs). Without Alexa, it would be harder because you’d have to write down all the questions…And we were of the opinion that it’s always better when someone else is picking and asking the questions.
So, technically how does Alexa Get these questions and answers?
TS: We just had a simple data model in the database with the questions and the answers. It had a session ID when you started a dialogue. Basically, when you answer, it is looking up the last question that was asked, which references the table to find out if what you answered was the correct answer.
So, did you enter the questions manually or did you pull them from a source?
TS: We just entered them manually. But if we’d had more time, we would have gotten a hold of a good source with a lot of questions and answers. For the presentation, we just entered the multiplication tables. But it could literally be anything. People could create their own questions and answers.
So even someone who isn’t technically inclined could enter their questions and answers and get started with Alexa?
TS: Yeah! That’s the idea. You could make a course out of anything, basically. The multiplication tables were ideal for our demonstration because they require short precise answers, not long sentences. Short and precise is best.
What roles did your team members play?
TS: I started development on the Alex Skill package, that handled the responses, as well as the login, the session information from Alexa. At the same time, two other members were working on an Admin application and a reporting application. Also, Doris, from the Peru office, made our team logo, as well the logo for the product itself…
Gotta say, they look good…
Yup! And, on the second day, Doris and Guillermo (also from Peru) took over the development of the Alexa Skill package and so on.
We noticed that many of the teams were needing to repeat themselves when interacting with Alexa. Did you encounter that problem?
TS: Not so much but Guillermo did mention to me that sometimes he had to take an American accent to be understood.
Any other technical issues?
TS: Yeah, there was an issue with the country of origin of the account. At the beginning we were working with my Australian Alexa account which for some reason wouldn’t register the Skill we were developing. So, we switched to Doris’ account. Basically, if your Alexa isn’t in the same locality as your account, it doesn’t seem to pick up the “skills” you have in development.
Also, just for fun, before we started the presentations, I was experimenting with adding some Australian interjections, like, “G’day” and that was pretty cool (laughs)
Sounds like a lot of fun. Just to wrap up, where would your team have taken this idea, had you more time?
TS: We wanted to add self-evaluation. The questions that we were using were “evaluate-able” by Alexa but we would have added a capability where, for example, Alexa would ask the question “How do you say the word hello in French” and when you answered, it would play back a recording of the word “bonjour” with the proper pronunciation, which you could use to evaluate your progress.
Very Cool. Trent Schafer, thanks very much for your time. I understand that your team’s names are now engraved on the Lord Francis Cup, so your group is forever memorialized as a winning hackathon team. Congratulations again to you all.
TS: Ah, Bonus! (laughs). Thanks.
InsumHack19 starts Friday (Tomorrow!) March 22nd 2019 and results will be announced Monday, March 25th. Best of luck to all teams!