UA Little Rock team wins $10,000 in Arkansas Governor’s Cup

Team Face-to-Face consists of Thomas Marcoux, a doctoral student in computer and information science from France, and Joseph Kready, a senior computer science major from North Little Rock.

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock team won $10,000 and third place in the Walton Family Foundation Graduate Division of the Arkansas Governor’s Cup for their business plan pitch for a technology that creates Avatar-based chatbots. The awards were announced during a virtual awards ceremony on April 9.

Team Face-to-Face consists of Joseph Kready, a senior computer science major from North Little Rock, and Thomas Marcoux, a doctoral student in computer and information science from France. Both team members are researchers at the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS), a research group run by Dr. Nitin Agarwal, Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy endowed chair and distinguished professor of information science at UA Little Rock.

“We feel honored by this award,” Marcoux said. “We have put a lot of time and effort in the business plan and are very excited to see our work pay off and receive some validation for our ideas.”

Face-To-Face is an innovative technology that creates Avatar-based chatbots that replace existing text-based chat bot solutions. The technology was developed based on research by Dr. Mariofanna Milanova, a professor of computer science.

“The idea stemmed from Dr. Milanova’s research on measuring mood through text and tonality,” Marcoux said. “While we were exploring different markets for the competition, we realized the potential to apply that research to improve chatbots and give them some emotional intelligence.”

What makes Face-to-Face unique is that similar products aren’t taking advantage of audio-visual technology to improve chatbots.

“With avatars, we can display emotion during the conversation at a level that’s never been done before,” Kready said.

Team mentor and coach Martial Trigeaud, an adjunct business professor at UA Little Rock, said he was very happy with the team’s performance and noted that Face-to-Face is the first UA Little Rock team to place in the Graduate Division of the Arkansas Governor’s Cup since 2009.

“The business plan they presented was really good,” Trigeaud said. “We’ve worked since August on different points of the business model. I am very pleased with all the hard work from the students.”

Now that the Arkansas Governor’s Cup is over, Marcoux and Kready plan to conduct more research and improve their product before seeking additional entrepreneurial funding opportunities.

“While developing the idea, we discovered quite a few hurdles to overcome,” Marcoux said. “The development of dynamic avatars is a new space and requires much research and development. Given current events, we plan on building test implementations of avatar-based chatbots and improving the technology stack in this area before seeking further funding.”

 

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