2329206706 ON JUST a handful of hours of sleep and numerous pots of coffee, three University of the Western Cape students won top honours in Standard Bank’s national IT challenge, with an application offering voice-activated online banking. For the blind, those who suffer from arthritis or similar disabilities, or even people who are illiterate, the banking app, which the students created in just three days, could offer them a shot at financial independence. Second-year BSc computer science students Kyle Jordaan and Daniel Collins and their first-year team mate Liam Doult broke a stranglehold on the contest which has been won nine times by the University of Cape Town, once by Stellenbosch University and once by Wits University. The three were shut in a Johannesburg hotel room from early August 20. They learnt what their task would be at a briefing at 9am and by the time they emerged on Monday at 1pm they had to be ready to present to the judging panel.
 
The Standard Bank Corporate Investment Banking Information Technology Challenge is hotly contested by 12 South African universities each year, with a R100 000 prize for the winning university, and a Dell Venue 11 Pro tablet worth more than R19 000 for the team members. Team coach Reg Dodds, a computer science lecturer at UWC, said he almost wept with pride when the students were declared the winners. He said each team had to design and build anapp which used the Amazon Echo, a device which handles speech commands and then responds orally. “Once the Echo is switched on, it listens to spoken commands, which are processed by computers in the cloud. The commands are then turned into text, which the app can process,” Dodds said. Collins said they had qualified for the final earlier this year and when they knew they had made it, began some preparations. “But two weeks before the competition we found out the format had been changed. It was no longer about solving problems, but about application production. “That’s when we started to believe we had a real chance to be placed somewhere near the top.” Doult said they decided to focus on creating something that would make internet banking accessible to all.“Called Easy Bank, our app allows the user to read in their pin, then instruct ‘Alexa’ to transfer, say R200, to a specific beneficiary.” Collins said they slept for no more than five-and-a-half hours over the competition weekend. “The hotel staff were literally bringing in jugs of coffee. We weren’t interested in anything but caffeine and sugar.” On top of their prizes, Dodds said Standard Bank executives had asked all three students for their contact details. Jordaan said: “We worked really hard, but we enjoyed ourselves as much as we could. “And the bank has told us that if they do work on the app with a view to implementing it, they will invite us to work on it with them. So we’re very excited about that possibility.” SOURCE: IOL

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