College student team wins $100K to develop service app

The University of Texas at Austin took home top honors with a new app called CallScout, designed to give Texas residents fast and easy access to information about social services in their area. Many of Texas’ 27 million residents rely on the state’s social services – such as transportation, healthcare, nutrition programs and housing assistance – though they can have difficulty finding the right information.

“The opportunities to apply Watson are endless. This past year we’ve seen thousands of Watson Ecosystem partners create and begin to deploy the first wave of Watson-powered apps that will drive real societal impact,” said Stephen Gold, vice president, IBM Watson Group. “These academic competitions expose students to a new era of computing, helps them build valuable professional skills, and provides an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to life.”

The CallScout app, which the State of Texas has approved for pilot, was designed to help streamline the delivery of social services information across mobile devices, ensuring crucial information is available when and where it is needed, especially for citizens without home internet service. The app will integrate local hours of service, route and map information and other relevant data, while automatically delivering push notifications when important details change.

“This is more than a school project for us–it’s about creating a sustainable business that addresses one of the key challenges we all face as Texas residents,” said Bri Connelly, team leader and undergraduate Computer Science student at the University of Texas at Austin. “The opportunity to directly impact citizens of our home state was a huge driving force in our work.”

In addition to the University of Texas at Austin, student teams from Carnegie Mellon University; Ohio State University; Northwestern University; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI); University of California, Berkeley; University of Michigan; and the University of Toronto competed at the Watson headquarters in New York City to pitch their business ideas to judges from IBM and venture firm The Entrepreneurs’ Fund, an early-stage venture fund focused on cognitive computing and cloud-based B2B software.

Two other innovative projects rounded out the top three finalists in the competition. Students from the University of Toronto took second place with “Ross,” an app that allows users to ask Watson legal questions related to their case work, speeding research and guiding lawyers to pertinent information to help their case. In third place, students from the University of California, Berkeley, designed a new app called “Patent Fox” that conceptualizes patent ideas, simplifies queries, streamlines filing processes and provides confidence-ranked, evidence-based results.

“As an educator, I’m always looking for creative ways to challenge and engage students,” said Professor Bruce Porter, Chairman, Department of Computer Sciences and Head of the Knowledge Systems Research Group, the University of Texas at Austin. “Through this program we have been able to create a unique experience that not only enabled our students to develop skills in cognitive computing, app development and team work, but also in business development.”

As students look to jumpstart their careers – starting businesses in their dorm rooms and going above and beyond regular coursework to develop new skills – IBM is committed to helping them succeed. The Watson University Competition builds on IBM’s long-standing work with the academic community to better prepare students for in-demand jobs, including previous academic competitions at Cornell, the University of Southern California, the City University of New York and others.

IBM’s Watson is a cognitive computing system that can analyze volumes of data, understand complex questions posed in natural language, and propose evidenced-based answers that help improve decision making. As the pace of innovation and new investments in cognitive computing accelerates, IBM continues to expand its Watson ecosystem of clients, partners, developers, venture capitalists, universities and students by working with the academic and venture communities to give students access to hands-on training, the latest cognitive technologies, industry experts, and now the funding required to bring their ideas to life.

The Watson Ecosystem of partners continues to expand with over 4,000 businesses and entrepreneurs seeking to innovate and revolutionize business with cognitive based apps. Through partnerships with top educational institutions across the country, the Watson Group is now empowering students from a range of disciplines for careers to move the cognitive era forward. This includes the IT developers who create cognitive apps, the entrepreneurs who commercialize the apps, and business professionals who use them every day.

Laura Ascione