Groups of NUS students across campus are making use of their technical prowess and unbridled creativity to make life easier for everyone. Enter the chatbot. These computer programmes are designed to simulate a human conversation via auditory or textual methods, and they are all the rage now. Simple yet highly functional, some undergraduates have taken to creating their own ‘bots’ for everything from managing laundry loads to organising outings.
Recently, undergraduates Amos Goh (Year 1, NUS Business) and Natasha Koh (Year 3, NUS Computing) launched TaxiBot. With the sometimes frustrating array of taxi and ride-hailing apps and promotions available, the bot was a welcome addition for people looking for a consolidated list of ongoing Uber, Grab and ComfortDelGro promotion codes for the most affordable journey.
“I realised how painful it was to hunt down and track promotion codes and how there wasn’t really a better way to do it,” said Amos. He chose to develop a bot because “they are intuitive and can deliver value to our users in the fastest and easiest way”.
With his business background, he launched a simplified version of TaxiBot. When the bot quickly gained interest, he roped in Natasha to help develop a technically superior version. The duo are still learning as they go and taking into account feedback from the more than 12,000 current users to continue to improve and expand on the bot’s features.
Another bot improving the lives of fellow students is the Orderlyst, developed over four days by Year 3 Computer Science student Sam Yong Shan Xian, one third of the team responsible for the successful College Laundry Bot. Introduced last year, the idea began as a mobile app submitted as an assignment for the module CS3216: Software Product Engineering for Digital Markets. The bot collates supper orders of college residents, overcoming problems of multiple confusing text messages in group chats.
“Orderlyst is great for compiling lists, not only for meals but meetings too,” said Year 2 NUS Business student and Residential College 4 Student Committee President Yip Hao Yang, who uses the bot to manage to-do tasks within his committee.
There is also the popular RC Meal Bot, created by Year 3 Computer Science student John Yong, which sends daily updates of the meals that will be served for breakfast and dinner in the dining halls of NUS’ residential colleges.
John also developed the CountMeIn Bot in June 2016 that manages live polling in group chats to collate preferences and make quick decisions, while avoiding errors and spam that typically plague other messaging platforms. The idea was inspired by Votebot written by Telegram which also allows single-click responses to polls but does not display the names of respondents, a feature John wanted. The bot currently has 1,400 users who have created some 3,600 polls. He hopes to enhance it by enabling features such as the ability to edit existing polls and share them across chat groups, and buttons to select or de-select all options. Both the RC Meal Bot and CountMeIn Bot were each coded in under three days.
“Chatbots are simpler to develop compared to apps as there is no need to design a full-fledged interface. New users are also more inclined to try it out since they don’t need to download a whole new app,” said John. He added, “There is a childlike wonder in building something and watching it work, perhaps that is what makes Lego (and programming) so fun!”