Techno wizards

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Two University of Regina students win with a technology most can’t even get their hands on

Kim Elaschuk
News Editor

While working on a research paper, University of Regina student Spoorthy Seemappa was getting frustrated. Constantly flipping from her paper to other documents was distracting and caused her to lose momentum.

So when fellow student, Mark Laprairie, came to her with an opportunity to get their hands on an unreleased new piece of technology to tinker with, Seemappa knew what she wanted to work on.

“Spoorthy, she came up with the motivating problem,” said Laprairie. “That sort of led us for the rest of the development. It was based around solving her problem.”

The two students recently took home the award for Best Implementation at the User Interface Software and Technology competition in New York. The international competition required competitors design a new use for the Microsoft Adaptive Keyboard.

The keyboard has miniature screens on each key. Instead of just showing boring old letters, users can program whatever they want to appear.

The two wanted whatever they created to have a wide appeal.

“We want to do something that everyone, [not only] computer science guys could use,” Seemappa said.

Seemappa and Leprairie decided to use the keyboard of the future to make the copy and paste function more practical. Anything you copy, whether it’s a picture or text, is shown on a different key. Then, when you want to paste you just press the key it appears on and you’re done.

“You can just copy and not stop reading. Just keep going and you don’t lose your train of thought,” explained Laprairie.

The team of two worked for months on their new system. Getting to their award-winning finished product took both of the students’ skills and a lot of teamwork.

Seemappa worked mostly on programming the actual keys. Laprairie also commends her inventiveness. 

“She brought the idea and a lot of creativity.”

Seemappa said she would not have had anything to program, though, if Laprairie hadn’t focused on the other parts of the equation.

“Mark mostly worked on the back end. He always dealt with the clipboard and brought me the information that had to be displayed.”

Both Seemappa and Leprairie are in the Masters in Computer Science  program here at the U of R. In order to make time in their busy schedules, they found that they needed to add one more member to their team: an understanding professor. Enter Professor Howard Hamilton.

“We totally put our actually academic stuff behind for a month, and he was really supportive,” Seemappa said. “He would say, ‘It’s okay, you’re working on something interesting. It’s all research in the end.’”

Hamilton even helped fund Laprairie’s trip to New York to showcase their project. But, once he got New York, Laprairie realize the competition was stiff.

“It was very exciting to still come up on top there after seeing, say, what the Australian team did. There was one team from Japan that implemented everything under the sun,” he said. “There was a lot of work that went into all the entries, so it was kind of exciting to see we could still compete.”

Unfortunately, Seemappa could not make it to New York. This left Laprairie to hold down the fort alone. While other teams had upwards of five members, Laprairie presented the team’s visual keyboard for four hours straight, without even a water break to be had.

“I figured as long as we acted confident then we could win,” said Laprairie.

Back at home, Seemappa was far from sure. All she heard was phone call updates about the amazing work other teams were doing.

“I actually gave up hope of winning at some point,” she admitted. “Hearing about [everyone else’s] ideas. I though, ‘Oh no, I don’t think we will win.’”

In the end, the team took home first place in the best implementation category, one of the categories in the competition.

Now that life has slowed down a little, the team hopes to perfect their copy and paste system. However, they doubt they’ll spend nearly as much time with the project as they did before the competition. After an exciting ride accomplishing what few Canadian students have done before, Seemappa and Leprairie are settling back into campus life and beginning to enjoy the lifelong benefit of being winners in their field.

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