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Old heads on young shoulders

National Software Contest rewards budding developers from universities

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For smartphone and tablet users, good apps are more important than a block of gold. Computer users also feel the constant urge to develop new programmes to enhance quality of life and work efficiency. Recognising the importance of application and programme development on all platforms, the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) recently held a National Software Contest (NSC) and feted young programmers. 

The contest featured categories of programmes for learning, programmes for entertainment, programmes for the elderly and people with disability, and mobile applications.

"Read-Up" app by Phiradet Bangcharoensap of the Computer Engineering Department, Kasetsart University, was the winner in the learning programmes category. Inspired by his own frustration while reading English-language content on websites, Phiradet came up with an app that enables users to click on English words they don't understand, and the translation will appear simultaneously. This app also applies the Natural Language Processing and Artificial Intelligence technology that can provide simple synonyms to words beyond your vocabulary. All you need to do is click on the word and the programme will provide an alternative word that's simpler and easier to understand.

Users can also learn English grammar as the app will highlight the subject, verb and object of the sentence, and it can detect complex and compound sentences and break them into simple sentences.

"This programme, running on Android, encourages learners to develop reading and learning skills without getting stuck in language barriers," said Phiradet.

The second prize went to "English Vocabulary Learning System For Beginners" application, by students at Faculty of ICT, Mahidol University. Designed for 10-18 years old students, the application helps users learn,practice, and measure their English vocabulary.

The "Learning Thai Flute" app won the merit prize. Its developer, Pariwat Saknimitwong, a Computer Engineering student at Kasetsart University, created the app even though he had never played the Thai flute before. "It's rare to find Thai musical mobile apps, most are international musical instruments, so I opted for the Thai flute as it's a small piece and portable," he said, adding that he applied his skills in trombone and trumpet to create this app.

First prize in the entertainment category went to the app "Run For Ayothaya" created by Computer Engineering students at the Prince of Songkhla University.

The app encourages users to exercise daily by enjoying the experience with the main character in the game. Users can calculate the calories they burn each day along with a boy, the main character in this game, who is running to deliver a message to Ayothaya.

Besides mobile devices, the programme, which also displays the history, score and rank of users, can be viewed on personal computer.

"We created a game which players can apply to daily life. Besides calculating the calories one burns each time, it also compares calorie intake with each meal," said team leader Theerasa Tonthongkam.

Second prize in the entertainment category went to "DinoMon", a strategic game on Facebook developed by Voratep Lertratsamewong and Chaiwat Muangpin, fourth-year ICT students at Silpakorn University.

The game is based around fossil excavation and it encourages the players to think logically.

They will enjoy playing the game together and acquire knowledge about dinosaurs, fossils, minerals and gems.

"Most games on the social network are developed based on foreign concepts. We made this application with the aim to equip the players with general knowledge about dinosaurs," said Voratep.

The application is designed to support every browser: Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer, and it runs on both iOS and Android devices.

There was no outright winner in the mobile applications category, but two teams shared the second prize while another took the third prize.

Of the teams sharing the second prize, one was rewarded for an app called "GuideMy Tour" developed by fourth-year students of Mahidol University's Faculty of Information and Communications Technology.

The team found that existing mobile apps for travellers provided too much general information on certain tourist attractions, while custom maps exclusively created for those places provided detailed and specific information about local points of interest and facilities, but lacked users' location and interactivity. The team combined advantages of both by providing two display modes in the "GuideMy Tour" app.

Rasita Satianrapapong, the team leader, explained that users can use map view to see their location and points of interest overlaid on map images or switch to camera view and point their device's rear cameras to see actual image of points of interest with their names labelled on them. Both maps and points-of-interest data can be created and modified by the user. The app utilises user geolocation and compass direction provided by GPS and compass sensors, applies AR technology to overlay the point of interest's name on the camera view, and uses matrix transformation to transform geo-coordinates to map image coordinates.

The other team sharing the second prize was cited for "Start Drawing", an app developed by the Faculty of Informatics, Burapha University. Montri Ngamakharakul, head of the team, who last year developed the "Thai Handwriting" mobile app which was a hit on the Google Play store, and was preloaded onto 860,000 tablets distributed under the government's free-tablet scheme for students. "Start Drawing" is an extension of "Thai Handwriting". It encourages students to practice drawing lines on tablets. It was meant to enable teachers to create exercises and upload them onto the net, view the results and give marks.

The "Guitar Chord" app won the third prize. Wachara Sirithep, a fourth-year student of Computer Science at Ubon Ratchathani University, developed the Android app for those who want to learn guitar by themselves. The app comprises four major components: tuner, which helps users to tune the sound; chord practice, for players to practice the basic chords by themselves, and there is a sound showing whether the player is correct; self-exercise, a music rhythm game to gauge how good the players have become after chord practice; and guitar effects, which is a simulation of guitar sounds used during live performances or in the studio treatments.

"The app was inspired by my childhood, when I wanted to play the guitar but could not rely on anyone, so I learned it by myself. Today, the smartphone can do that job, and I can do programming. I developed the application and for those who have never played the guitar. Now they can do it within a month with the help of this mobile app," said Wachara.

The NSC competition featured 128 programmes developed by university and high school students, and puts them in line to be nominated for the IT Princess Award and represent Thailand at the Asia Pacific ICT Awards later this year.

The first prize in each category was worth 60,000 baht in cash and a trophy, the second and third prizes were worth 40,000 baht and 20,000 baht respectively, and the merit prize won 10,000 baht.

Next week, winning apps from high school student teams at the NSC.

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