TRU students tech the halls with BCLC

Four Thompson Rivers University students will return to campus next semester after eight months in a paid co-op with the B.C. Lottery Corporation, where they worked alongside leaders in Kamloops tech and worked on thinking outside the box to move the corporation into the future.

“I think it’s gone fantastically,” BCLC vice-president of business technology Pat Davis told KTW of the program, in its first year with plans to continue.

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“It’s been amazing.”

The students and a BCLC employee have been holed up at Kamloops Innovation Centre on the North Shore for nearly eight months, working on issues like artificial intelligence chatbots to deal with customers and Amazon Echo skills that read winning numbers and draw times.

Davis said the students — Matthew McKay, James Howe, Navalpreet Kaur and Sachin Akula — have come up with ideas that likely would not have seen the light of day if not for the program.

“We always look at where tech is going, but there are things that are outside of that core,” he said.

Akula’s voice-assistant app — think Amazon Echo or Google Home — was demonstrated for BCLC executives earlier this month.

He said the idea came from a simple place.

“Coming to lottery, the most common thing people want to know is winning numbers,” he said, noting the most popular way to get them has historically been by calling an automated phone line.

“We wanted to make this a little easier, simpler. So, using modern tech, we looked at voice-based assistants,” Akula said.

“They are more and more popular every day. The tech is improving, as well. On the customer side, all they say is, ‘Alexa, what are the winning numbers for 6/49?’”

Akula said the app is still in development, but nearly all the work is done.

“For players, it’s not ready yet,” he said.

“There’s more BCLC has to do. But it’s working right now, internally.”

Akula, a computer science student, is from India and has been studying at TRU for two years.

“I really want to stay in Kamloops and work here,” he said.

“There are lots of cool opportunities here. Working in Kamloops Innovation Centre, we got to know lots of cool companies and lots of startups. There’s a lot to do here in terms of technology.”

Davis believes the program will return.

“Hopefully, in April or May, we’ll have a new cohort,” he said.

© 2018 Kamloops This Week

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