What we saw at Aurora 2K16

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A few days back, we made our way to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. It’s been a while since we were last here. So what brought us here you ask? The answer to that question would be Aurora 2K16. In case you’re lost, Aurora 2K16 is a conference on computer science organized by the Computer Science students at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. The goal of Aurora is to give both school students and undergraduates practical exposure to popular industrial technologies. So what did we find at Aurora 2K16? Let’s take a look.

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Image credits: Society of Computer Science – University of Sri Jayewardenepura

The event opened with Dr. Ananda Gamage introducing us to what the department of computer science does. Following his speech, Dr. Sankalpa Gamage from Zone 24×7 takes the stage and introduced us to what SLASSCOM is. Currently, the IT BPO industry is worth 1bn and SLASSCOM want it to be 5bn by 2022. This goal will be achieved by training and motivating our local talent.

He briefed a few examples of SLASSCOM initiatives to do so such as the Jaffna IT week and the SLASSCOM tech forum. He goes on to say that much of Sri Lanka’s economy runs on the income generated by women working in the Middle East, garment factories and tea estates. SLASSCOM wants to change this to a knowledge based model. The other two ways of achieving the $5bn goal and changing this economic model are by product engineering and supporting startups.

Image credits: Society of Computer Science - University of Sri Jayewardenepura
Image credits: Society of Computer Science – University of Sri Jayewardenepura

He then took the example of the STF defeating the LTTE to show how Sri Lanka can win on the world stage. Dr. Sankalpa then goes on to say for our engineers to be like STF forces, they need to spend 15 hours a day on brain exercises and know the basics like a prayer. The only thing more important than your skills is your value system. This he says is the main thing we need to fix to be at the top of the world. He concluded by encouraging students to have technopreneur values and focus on customer-centric research.

Following Dr. Sankalpa’s speech, Adhisha Gammanpila – chief organizer of Aurora 2K16 took the stage to give us a brief introduction to the conference. After his introduction, Dr. Ravindra De Silva from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura took the stage to introduce us to social robotics. He opens his video by sharing a video of a small robot learning from the famous Pixar robot. This was an example of machine to machine interactions, which is where a robot learns from another robot. Afterwards, he shared a commercial of voice commands on Apple’s original iMacs and a more recent one. This is an example of Human – Machine interactions. In such interactions, the robot imitates anything a human does.

Image credits: University of Sri Jayewardenepura
Image credits: University of Sri Jayewardenepura

A social robot is one that is a combination of both examples. By definition, it is one that is autonomous and interacts with humans along with other autonomous robots/physical objects. The idea of social robots isn’t new. We’ve had them since the 90’s and an example would be Asimo by Honda. When developing a social robot there are 3 factors we need to consider:

  • Design: When engaging with humans, design is important. A poorly designed product, can’t be interacted with well.
  • Animacy: When designing a social robot, it must give the impression that it is alive similar to a human.
  • Anthropomorphism: JIBO robot by MIT

So where can social robots be used in? Quite a few areas actually. From hotel assistants to learning companions to elderly cares, there’s a wide range of areas a social robot can be used in.  However, there are challenges.  For starters, designing such a robot is not easy. Secondly, changing human perceptions of such robots and modelling human behaviors is no easy task. Dr. Ravindra concludes by introducing us to two examples of social robots: the Social trash box and the Talking ally.

After Dr. Ravindra, we saw Kalana Wijesekera, Technical Lead from 99X Technology take the stage. He begins by introducing us to what UX is.  In case you’re lost, User Experience is UX and it’s all about the experience your users get when users use your software. Most people assume User Interface (how your application looks) is the same as UX. However, this is far from the truth. UI is only one part of the UX formula. So who needs to use UX? Every single person in a software development team.

Image credits: University of Sri Jayewardenepura
Kalana Wijesekera, Technical Lead from 99X Technology (Image credits: University of Sri Jayewardenepura)

Kalana then shared his UX story, which started off with him as a web developer. One day he was asked to develop a mobile app for a website. He needed to provide all the features of his website on the tiny screen of a mobile app. And so he created the mobile app by putting the different functionalities of the web app on the different screen of the mobile app. Kalana then introduces us to personas which are a method of identifying the common traits between users and help develop a great user experience for all users.

Kalana went on to say that if you want to guarantee good UX, don’t create your entire website in one go. Rather create an MVP and test it out with your customers. If you don’t build an MVP, it’s all too easy for you to end up wasting 10 weeks on building an application only to find that nobody wants it. This is Lean UX. He concludes his introduction to UX by sharing a few tools to help you measure how good your UX is such as google analytics.

After introducing us to the basics of UX, Kalana spoke to us as to how UX can be used to disrupt. He begins this section by defining what we mean by disruption with a few examples such as Uber and PickMe. So what’s behind all this disruption? Good UX. If you can properly identify and understand a problem the users face, then you can build software that can change the lives of users. He concludes by asking the audience to have a UX eye and focus on finding solutions to problems, this is how Sri Lanka’s IT industry would grow.

Following Kalana’s presentation and a lunch break, it was time for the on-stage quiz. This was the other side of Aurora 2K16: the competition. In the morning, all the teams from the many schools that registered took part in an MCQ exam. The top 6 teams from this MCQ exam advanced to a practical challenge. From this practical challenge, the top two teams were to face each other at this final on-stage quiz to crown the winner.

Image credits: University of Sri Jayewardenepura
Image credits: University of Sri Jayewardenepura

The on-stage quiz had two rounds. In the first round, the teams got 16 questions with 20 seconds to answers with 10 points for each answer. In the second round, the teams got 10 questions where they had to hit the buzzer if they know the answer. However, the second round had a twist: each correct answer was worth 10 points but an incorrect one would cost the team 30 points. With that being said, both teams from Nalanda College and Wesely College fought hard.

Following the on-stage quiz, Saminda Kularathne – a former student of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura took the stage to introduce an app he built. This app was The Ambula, a food social network. This is a place for you to learn and share any recipes for tasty meals you have.

With the conclusion of Saminda’s presentation, Ganindu Nanayakkara took the stage to share with everyone on how to the innovator. To be an innovator Ganindu says, we need to be builders. If you can’t code or build stuff then you can’t be an innovator. In this aspect, it’s important to always remember the fundamentals. At the same time, you need to know what is going around you.

The most important thing to master as an innovator is to be a great presenter. Even if you create the greatest product in the world, if you can’t communicate it then it’s useless. Make sure people remember you and your product when they see it. He concludes by saying another skill an innovator need is finance management skills. So if you get any profit, put that cash back into your business.

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Image credits: Society of Computer Science – University of Sri Jayewardenepura

With the conclusion of Ganindu’s presentation, it was time to announce the winners of the competition. And the winners of the Aurora 2K16 Competition were:

  • Second runners-up: Saint benedicts college kotahena
  • First runners-up: Wesely college
  • Winner: Nalanda college

Additionally, a student from Methodist College won a 3D printed sculpture for answering a surprise question by quiz master. With the awards having been given out, the vote of thanks was delivered which marked the end of Aurora 2K16.  From 3D printers to robotics to UX, Aurora 2K16 brought many exciting new things from last year. Yet, the basic formula is still very familiar from last year. We congratulate the winners and will be looking forward to Aurora 2K17.

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