DUT STUDENT INVENTS FACEBOOK BOT
By: Shanice Pillay
Pivendren Naik (24) a student at the Durban University of Technology has received ‘thumbs up’ from Facebook for his recent invention.
With a Bachelor of Technology Degree in Electronic Engineering: Computer Systems, he has created a Facebook Messanger Bot, also known as ‘Poli’ after he was unable to locate a police station.
“I had an incident in the beginning of this year where someone reversed into my car and I was unable to find a police station. When I did, it was the wrong one. I was then inspired by this idea,” said Naik.
The student has been working on conversational bots for the past six months. The bot is designed in a way which seems as if you are communicating with someone but all responses are automated.
These bots are useful for remedial tasks. For example, when you are ordering a pizza you don’t necessarily have to speak to a person. The Facebook Messenger Bot shares your location and helps you find the nearest police station instantly.
The humble student always had an eye for gadgets and technology. But the choices for his career varied from optometry to photography. He was eventually accepted for electronic engineering in computer systems which started his career.
“In my first and second year I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do so I found myself gate-crashing other courses, especially Information Technology (IT). I even entered competitions and won a few. It eventually felt like I was more of an IT student rather than an engineering student,” he added.
Naik reminisces about winning R12 000 at Vodacom hackathon, which he entered a few years ago with a friend. They built an application called ‘In Case of Emergency’ which sends an instant SOS to family members.
The bot, which was created on an ordinary Saturday afternoon, was entered into the Middle East and Africa Facebook Messenger Challenge. Naik was selected as one of the top 60 finalists. He has been accepted into the Facebook starter programme which will assist him in stabilizing the creation.
“For the next year, they will help build the bot and make it sustainable over the years,” explained Naik. “I don’t have any plans of modifying the bot because the initial idea was to put it out there for free.”
The computer system genius is not sure about furthering his studies just yet.
“There is a lot of exciting things happening outside university. I have a feeling I will put further studies on hold for about six months and then I will get back into it thereafter,” he said.
Naik said being in South Africa is no longer a disadvantage; anything is possible. His advice to other young people is to not be afraid of failing.