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The AVIOS Student Contest Salutes Tomorrow's Speech Talent

In its 10th year, the competition yields apps for everyday use
By Deborah Dahl - Posted Feb 15, 2016
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Over the years, the AVIOS Student Speech Application Contest has recorded a diverse group of winning voice-activated programs: a calorie counter, a grandmother’s guide to technology, a hotline for finding out course grades, a workout log, and an app notifying commuters when the next bus will arrive. Now in its 10th year, the contest, open to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students, showcases the innovative speech apps developed by the next generation of creative talent.

The types of submissions AVIOS has received since 2007 reflect the evolution of speech technology and the industry itself. In the contest's early years, submissions consisted primarily of voice applications using VoiceXML, as well as a few desktop multimodal applications. But a lot has changed since 2007, when iPhones and Android phones first arrived on the scene and it was not yet possible to develop apps for either phone. In recent years, submissions have more often been multimodal applications native on mobile devices, along with some browser-based applications, mirroring the overall industry movement toward mobile apps.

Another interesting facet of the students' submissions: They've nearly all been end-user-oriented applications designed to make everyday life easier. In contrast to the fast-moving technical landscape, everyday life hasn't changed all that much since 2007. Consequently, many of the applications submitted 10 years ago are still relevant today. Apps entered in the first student contest—a recipe reader and organizer, an algebra practice tutor, and a travel kiosk—would still be useful, and many previous winners have shared the practical, real-world focus. One recent submission was a storytelling app that let caregivers record a story for a child in their own voice, with the ability to control the story by voice; another helped users shop for a new house.

The contest is announced early in the fall, submissions are due in early January, and the winners are announced at the Mobile Voice Conference in the spring. After some challenging installation issues with desktop applications in the early years (the judges have to be able to install the applications to run them), the entries have now been limited to applications that can be accessed from a phone number and run on common mobile devices or in a browser. These options nevertheless give students plenty of scope for creativity.

Applications are judged by a panel of industry experts; the six judging criteria are robustness, usefulness, technical superiority, user friendliness, innovation, and creativity. Information enabling the public to access the winning applications is posted on the AVIOS Web site after the winners are announced.

The student winners are invited to attend Mobile Voice, and they are always excited to get a chance to see commercial applications and interact with speech technology professionals. This year AVIOS is very fortunate to have two generous sponsors of the contest: Google is sponsoring monetary prizes for the student winners, and Openstream is donating funds to help cover the students' travel expenses to Mobile Voice. In addition, Openstream is offering additional awards to any winners who use its Cue-me platform, and Google is inviting the winners to visit Google and present their application to the Google voice/speech team.

Submissions have generally been developed as class projects in speech application classes, but that's not a requirement. Applications could be developed by students working on their own, as part of a class project, or as part of a hackathon. The only requirement is that the applications be developed by students, either as individuals or as part of a team of up to five members.

If you know any students interested in voice-enabled applications, encourage them to enter the contest. And if you're a university or high school computer science instructor, why not include a module about voice-enabled applications in your courses? That way, your students can learn how to develop these apps—and submit their projects to AVIOS while they're at it. Previous winners and faculty who have participated in the contest have reported a universally positive experience. The contest encourages students to develop creative ideas aimed at solving a real problem, a challenge quite different from the coursework of most college classes.

Keep your eyes on the AVIOS website for the 2016 contest winners and for the 2017 contest announcement!


Deborah Dahl, Ph.D., is principal at speech and language consulting firm Conversational Technologies and chair of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Multimodal Interaction Working Group. She can be reached at dahl@conversational-technologies.com.

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