U of T students score in IBM’s XML design contest

In IBM Corp.’s Cool Blue Voice XML Challenge, the University of Toronto spoke loudest.

The University of Toronto took two of the top 10 spots in the contest, which spanned universities across the globe and received some 1,800 applications. On Tuesday, IBM Canada Ltd. and U of T students offered demonstrations of the winning applications and the university’s Computer Science Students Union was presented with the high-tech trophy, an IBM XML Voice Server.

The individual first prize and accompanying US$25,000 cheque went to Brent Metz of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for his Nutritional Planner application. ButTan Bao and Raoul Jarvis, representing U of T, claimed second and third place for their respective applications. Bao’s application, Virtually There Music Depot, affords voice-command song sampling. Jarvis’ Weather, News, Horoscope is a voice-interactive information service.

Neither of the U of T winners were present Tuesday. But Bao, who was a Ph.D student in botany when he entered the contest, discussed his application in an encoded mp3 statement in which he referred to the contest as a “very rewarding and interesting challenge.”

The Voice XML Challenge is part of IBM’s Campus Executive Partnership Program, which places a representative at what it considers to be key universities around the world. IBM Canada communication sector vice-president Shahla Aly serves as the U of T partner. She said the program is designed to maintain IBM’s image on university campuses as an attractive employer.

“We want to attract the brightest and best to IBM,” she said. “We are a people intensive business.”

The XML Challenge, she said, was designed to increase the number of people working with XML, and to demonstrate that Voice XML applications are not incredibly difficult to write, even for first timers.

Greg Gulyas, vice-president of systems sales for IBM Canada, acknowledged the contest also served the company’s own interests.

“This technology is important because it’s lined up with a bunch of things that are strategic to the company,” he said, making specific mention of IBM’s e-business initiatives. “There are a number of challenges in e-business. One is how to get more people to use these systems. One of the reasons we have an emphasis on voice is that, ‘What would be an easier way to communicate with computers?'”

Aly said IBM has no plans, and is not in a position to commercialize any of the applications as they belong to the individual contestants.

As for the XML Voice Server, valued at $35,000, it could well serve as an information tool for current and prospective U of T computer science students.

“The department is swamped with phone calls,” said Kris Tiu, president of U of T’s Computer Science Students’ Union. “I would like to see the server help answer questions.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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