Western Sydney girls win Alexa coding competition

Western Sydney University is proud to announce the winners and runner-ups of this year’s Alexa Competition, presented at yesterday’s AWS Public Sector Summit held in Canberra. High school students from around Western Sydney, travelled to the capital for the competition. Teams had to demonstrate how they used artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud technologies, to design and build an Alexa skill that improves the community they live in.

The winners of this year’s contest was the all-girls team, McAuley Max, from Catherine McAuley in Westmead, who impressed the judges with their Alexa skill, Stress Less. Aimed towards stressed senior students and those who may have a mental illness or low self-esteem, the skill allows users to seek helpful study tips and emotional comfort when being stressed. The skill also provides contact information of organisations that can assist with the user’s particular situation, such as Kids Helpline or 000.

Two other teams from Catherine McAuley were among the finalists, with their Alexa skills to provide tips to alleviate symptoms of the common cold as well as a treasure hunting app. Other runner-ups included teams from:

  • Cerdon College in Merrylands with their Alexa comfort mode;
  • Granville Boys with a new Alexa based school assistant;
  • Norwest Christian College in Riverstone for their note taker skill.

In preparation for the competition, AWS Educate and Western Sydney University worked together, to bring the Alexa competition to Western Sydney for the first time. Students from the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics received training on essential design and coding skills. WSU then launched the competition with an Alexa Bootcamp in June for local high schools, facilitated by student volunteers.

University students,staff and AWS Educate experts also provided ongoing support and troubleshooting during the ideation and building stages. More than 10 teams participated in the challenge.

Associate Professor Bahman Javadi from the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics, said: “An Alexa skill is a function that enables the user to verbally communicate a request to the cloud-based, virtual system. The combination of AI with voice controlled technology has the potential to improve our quality of life with a wide range of applications in health and wellbeing, education and customer service to name a few.  We were really impressed with the quality of submissions, and the value these applications can bring to the wider community.

“STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills are more sought after than ever in Western Sydney’s rapidly transforming economy. The participants demonstrated that our region is home to some of our brightest and most creative young minds.”

The contest had the theme ‘Build for a Better Tomorrow’. Finalists and winners were selected by a judging panel comprised of WSU and AWS Educate staff. The coding contest was open to students from 14 to 18 years of age, competing in teams of five, registered by a teacher at their school. The winners received prize packs of Amazon Alexa Echo Dots, Western Sydney University gifts, power banks and 1 kilogram bags of Snakes Alive.


12 September 2018

Isabel Wagner, Senior Media Officer