CMU-Africa Students Traveling to Facebook F8 After Winning Bot Party and Hackathon in Kigali, Rwanda-Carnegie Mellon University Africa - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

CMU-Africa Students Traveling to Facebook F8 After Winning Bot Party and Hackathon in Kigali, Rwanda

Four students from Carnegie Mellon University Africa (CMU-Africa) will be traveling to San Jose, California to attend the Facebook Developer Conference F8 on April 18-19. The students–Lenah Chacha, Aimable Rwema, Joshua Ocero, and Davy Uwizera–were selected to attend the conference after they distinguished themselves during a hackathon competition that occurred on CMU-Africa’s campus in Kigali, Rwanda in March. At F8, the CMU-Africa students will have an opportunity to showcase their messenger bots alongside the world’s top tech developers. 

A bot for Messenger communicates with customers using the Messenger platform and combines aspects of artificial intelligence to learn from that interaction. Bots typically perform tasks that are structured and repetitive at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human, such as Sephora’s Virtual Artist, which matches an image sent by users through Messenger to the lipstick closest in color in Sephora’s stock.

The bot party and hackathon at CMU-Africa in March was one of 33 taking place in Africa and the Middle East, but the only bot party followed by a 24-hour hackathon in the entire region. During the bot party, students were able to interact with the team from Facebook, which included Strategic Partnerships Manager from Facebook US Jennifer Fong and Strategic Partnerships Manager from Facebook South Africa Proud Dzambukira, and gain insight on the Messenger technology. In the hackathon competition that followed, the students had 24 hours to come up with their own bot for Messenger that would address a local issue.

The winning team was Chacha and Rwema, both of whom are pursuing a Master of Science in Information Technology at CMU-Africa. The two built a bot that enables merchants, who do not have access to expensive inventory software, to catalogue their inventory on their platform and connects them with buyers. The bot also facilitates the buying process by presenting buyers with all available options for items they are looking for on demand.

Ocero, who is working towards a Master of Science in Information Technology at CMU-Africa with a concentration in software engineering, and Uwizera, pursuing a Master of Science in Information Technology at CMU-Africa with a concentration in data science and software engineering, emerged as the runner ups. Their bot connects farmers (or cooperatives) and buyers to sell or purchase produce while estimating a market price based on the bot interaction.

“The bot party and hackathon showed me the importance of building a business or idea on a social media platform,” says Rwema. “Messenger is used by over a billion people worldwide, so building your business model on something that accesses such a huge market is something that will help you reach your goals once you start a company.”

The winners, as well as the other fifteen teams who participated from CMU-Africa, will have the opportunity to submit their bot for Facebook’s global Bots for Messenger Challenge on April 28.

“Attending F8 is a great opportunity to mingle with Facebook developers from around the world and to view their perspectives–but even more exciting is having the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley, where people’s dreams become reality,” says Ocero.

Since 2011, CMU-Africa has contributed to enhancing the quality of the engineering workforce in Africa. This effort has addressed the critical shortage of information and communication technology (ICT) skills required for Africa to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution where physical, cyber and biological systems converge through information, computing and communication technologies to transform the lives and livelihoods of citizens around the world in unprecedented ways. To date, CMU-Africa has graduated 70 students, the majority of whom are working in their home countries, making an impact in the private sector, government and academia, and the rest are creating startup companies and pursuing doctoral programs.

Check out photos from the bot party and hackathon from March 11 and March 12.