A student team from the University of Maryland won first place in November in an emerging technology competition for developing a web chatbot.

The Fall 2022 Interactive Case Competition: Emerging Tech Challenge tasked competitors with developing a product plan that utilized emerging technologies. The winning team from this university, which was captained by junior mechanical engineering major Ryan Phillip, presented a web chatbot prototype targeted toward the competition’s judges, who work in telecommunication and cable companies.

Team UMD developed chatbots based on artificial intelligence. On most websites, chatbot responses are typically vague or “completely inaccurate,” leaving users dissatisfied, according to Craig Leddy, the founder of the competition and president of Interactive TV Works. The student team’s solution was to use artificial intelligence to help chatbots better detect user emotions and provide more accurate answers.

“I think what impressed the judges was not only the plan that the team came up with, but it was clear that they had worked well together and they were very enthusiastic about the product they came up with,” Leddy said.

The other members of the team were business and management graduate student Zavian Dorah, sophomore computer science major Gene Ni and junior mechanical engineering major Rafsun Mohammad. Joey Chan, a senior computer science student at Johns Hopkins University, also joined this university’s team.

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As part of the prototype development process, the team members had to decide how to best implement the chatbot service. Ni spearheaded the effort to nail down the product’s target audience and determine how the team would deliver their service to companies.

He said the team owes its success to their varying strengths and roles.

“When you create teams in your respective majors, it doesn’t really work well … a solid team is when you have people from multiple backgrounds and multiple knowledge levels on different topics,” Ni said

Yvette Kanouff, a judge and Partner at JC2 Ventures and Chair of Cable TV Pioneers, was particularly enthusiastic about Team UMD’s service.

“For them to take on this complicated problem and see it’s trying to address it, I think is admirable. It’s not as simple as chatbots but they’re looking at a complicated problem that’s really real,” Kanouff said.

Kanouff hopes they continue to innovate and noted that companies tend to look for people with drive, innovative spirit and the ability to work as a team, which were all qualities the team showed.

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Almost half of previous competitors in the Interactive Case Competition have gone on to work in media and tech fields, according to Leddy. A key goal of the competition is to make students more “industry-educated candidates” for internships and jobs in media tech companies, he said.

Dorah said working on the chatbot with his team introduced him to a new potential career path.

“One of my favorite parts was working on and actually doing the presentation. I found out that I like talking and maybe I could do something in sales … this opened up an avenue to that,” Dorah said.

But his biggest takeaway from the competition was the value of teamwork, he said.

“In order to win a championship or whatever you need to, you need to be good, you need to be elite,” Dorah said. “Everyone needs to come together and really be a boss at their part in order to win the end goal as a team.”