Four students from Carnegie Mellon University Africa (CMU-Africa) will be traveling to San Jose, California to attend the Facebook Developer Conference F8 on April 18-19. The students–Lenah Chacha, Aimable Rwema, Joshua Ocero, and Davy Uwizera–were selected to attend the conference after they distinguished themselves during a CMU-Africa bot party and hackathon competition that occurred on CMU-Africa’s facility in Kigali, Rwanda in March. At F8, the CMU-Africa students will have an opportunity to showcase their messenger bots alongside the world’s top tech developers.

A bot for Messenger communicates with customers using the Messenger platform and combines aspects of artificial intelligence to learn from that interaction. Bots typically perform tasks that are structured and repetitive at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human, such as Sephora’s Virtual Artist, which matches an image sent by users through Messenger to the lipstick closest in color in Sephora’s stock.

The bot party and hackathon at CMU-Africa in March was one of 33 taking place in Africa and the Middle East, but the only bot party followed by a 24-hour hackathon in the entire region. During the bot party, students were able to interact with the team from Facebook, which included Strategic Partnerships Manager from Facebook US Jennifer Fong and Strategic Partnerships Manager from Facebook South Africa Proud Dzambukira, and gain insight on the Messenger technology. In the hackathon competition that followed, the students had 24 hours to come up with their own bot for Messenger that would address a local issue.

Attending F8 is a great opportunity to mingle with Facebook developers from around the world and to view their perspectives–but even more exciting is having the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley, where people’s dreams become reality.

Joshua Ocero, Candidate in Master of Science in Information Technology (2017), Carnegie Mellon University Africa

“We built the hackathon into our event because we wanted to provide an opportunity for our students to showcase their technical abilities and encourage them to submit their bots to the regional Middle East and Africa Bots for Messenger Challenge,” said Bruce Krogh, Director of Carnegie Mellon University Africa.

The winning team was Chacha and Rwema, both of whom are pursuing a Master of Science in Information Technology at CMU-Africa. The two built BiasharaBot, which enables merchants, who do not have access to expensive inventory software, to catalogue their inventory on their platform and connects them with buyers. The bot also facilitates the buying process by presenting buyers with all available options for items they are looking for on demand.

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Ocero, who is working towards a Master of Science in Information Technology at CMU-Africa with a concentration in software engineering, and Uwizera, pursuing a Master of Science in Information Technology at CMU-Africa with a concentration in data science and software engineering, emerged as the runners-up with FARMBOT. Their bot connects farmers (or cooperatives) and buyers to sell or purchase produce while estimating crop price by location based on the bot interaction, which helps stakeholders react accordingly. In the long run, the bot can give early warnings on food security by location and can also help plan transportation in rural areas based on the data collected by the bot.

“The bot party and hackathon showed me the importance of building a business or idea on a social media platform,” says Rwema. “Messenger is used by over a billion people worldwide, so building your business model on something that accesses such a huge market is something that will help you reach your goals once you start a company.”

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See more photos from the event on CMU-Africa's Flickr.

The winners, as well as the other fifteen teams who participated from CMU-Africa, will have the opportunity to submit their bot for Facebook’s global Bots for Messenger Challenge on April 28.

“Attending F8 is a great opportunity to mingle with Facebook developers from around the world and to view their perspectives–but even more exciting is having the opportunity to visit Silicon Valley, where people’s dreams become reality,” says Ocero.