A strong friendship, a shared passion for music and dreams of working in the tech industry helped two McMaster Engineering students win the Actions on Google Challenge at the University of Toronto’s annual hackathon. The event took place from January 19-21.
Liane Ladouceur, a third year electrical and biomedical engineering student and Kerala Brendon, a computer science student, also in her third year, won judges over with Talking Notes, an interactive music teacher application. The pair took home a Google Pixel 2, a Google Home Mini and the opportunity to work alongside Google Actions engineers to bring their application to life for over 400M users.
“We went into UofT Hacks with the intention of learning something new and didn’t expect to win any challenges,” explained Ladouceur. “When we won, we realized our app really did offer everything the Google judges were looking for. The user experience was well thought out, it was useful and unique to the Google Assistant. Plus, it had a lot of ‘Googleyness’ and passion behind it.”
Talking Notes teaches a user how to play up to five instruments; the cello, clarinet, piano, violin or recorder. The music teacher assesses a user’s skill level, walks them through tuning the instrument, practicing scales and rehearsing sheet music.
“Before starting the hackathon, we had no experience with Actions on Google, so we were starting from scratch, learning this new interface,” said Brendon. “We learned to use Firebase, the Google mobile development platform, as well as Dialogflow, which takes care of natural language processing.”
In its fifth year, UofTHacks brings developers, designers and creators together for 36 hours of collaborative computer programming. The event introduces attendees to new hardware and application programming interfaces (APIs). There are also workshops and support from volunteer mentors.
This year, 500 people attended. There were 12 challenges in total and the Actions on Google Challenge attracted 29 teams.
Ladouceur and Brendon’s idea for Talking Notes stemmed from their love for music. Ladouceur plays the clarinet and Brendon plays the piano and cello. Brendon continues to keep her skills sharp by playing cello for the McMaster Chamber Orchestra and the McMaster Engineering Musical.
In their first year, the duo became best friends as Welcome Week representatives.
“Being in different programs, we had never worked together on a project or any school work,” said Brendon. “We were happy to find out that we work very well together, and that spending 36 intense hours together didn’t ruin our friendship, but actually made it stronger.”
Ladouceur and Brendon hope to enhance the user experience of the app by giving it the ability to recall information on specific users to tailor the experience each time it’s used. They also want to create a more personal music teacher for each user.
“We were both intent on pursuing careers in the tech industry already, and this experience has certainly given us a boost in confidence.”