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Transcription app earns students seat at Silicon Valley table

Zolbayar Magsar, Sintia Radu, Yaryna Mykhyalyshyn, Anna Maikova and John Gillis pose for a photo in gray shirts.

Team Recordly (From left: Zolbayar Magsar, Sintia Radu, Yaryna Mykhyalyshyn, Anna Maikova and John Gillis) won the 2016 Reynolds Journalism Institute Student Competition for their audio transcription app.

After months of hard work, five of the 16 mobile app development teams that began the trek toward a potential victory at the Reynolds Journalism Institute Tech Showcase Student Competition pitched their projects to a team of judges for the chance to win a trip to Silicon Valley and demonstrate their work to Apple executives.

Recordly, a mobile service that allows journalists to use the Apple Watch to transcribe, track and highlight interviews recorded on their iPhones, won the ninth edition of the annual competition that partners students from the College of Engineering and School of Journalism as well as some students from the College of Business to create innovative new iOS applications.

The Recordly team included electrical and computer engineering undergraduate John Gillis, computer science graduate student Zolbayar Magsar and journalism graduate students Anna Maikova and Sintia Radu and undergraduate Yaryna Mykhyalyshyn.

Teams formed back in September with the goal of creating a media-based application for the Apple Watch designed to “inform, engage and entertain,” according to Associate Teaching Professor Dale Musser, who served as one of the competition organizers and a mentor from Computer Science.

Recordly’s presentation illustrated how the Apple Watch enables users to see real-time transcription of their interviews, which allows journalists to highlight important quotes for later, bookmark information by timestamp and integrate the transcripts with social media to allow for ease of quote posting. The app also allows colleagues to simultaneously view the interview notes on the desktop version.

“Recordly had what the judges perceived as a marketable, functional, nearly ready to go application,” Musser said.

The app utilizes IBM Watson speech-to-text technology for the transcription and allows journalists to save time on transcription by also allowing users to pick out the most important chunks of an interview in real time.

“Every time you ask a journalist what one of their least favorite parts of the day is, it’s transcribing interviews,” Gillis said.

“We started with a very wide reach of trying to address students, all professionals, legal, medical — all the people that do transcription — then focused in on journalists. We believe they’d use it the most and derive a financial benefit from it.”

The Recordly team prepared for the event by presenting the app at a competition at the University of Georgia over spring break. Both presentations helped prepare them for running the Silicon Valley gauntlet, starting with Apple and a group of local MU alumni. The team then presented to former competition winner and MU computer science alumnus Peng Zhuang, now of Google, as well as high level officers from social media-based breaking news firm Banjo and media-focused tech incubator Matter. They received useful feedback as well as facility tours and demos from each.

“We had a conversation with the Apple news editor and the product manager for the Apple TV, and they sat at a stool in the front of the room and discussed honestly how to make it better and what we were using it for,” Gillis said.

“The comment consistently is these are the most professional looking apps and presentations from students that they’ve ever seen,” Musser said. “On par, and in some cases better, than what some companies actually do when they come to present.”

Gillis said the Recordly team plans on continuing to develop the app for market, and the team currently is partnering with MU’s Missouri Innovation Center with the hopes of getting a foot in the door of media companies in the near future.

Maply, a crowd-sourced app that alerts users to events currently ongoing in their immediate vicinity, earned the Technical Merit Award at the competition. The Maply team was computer science undergraduates Bryan Hill and Dallas Hoelscher, journalism undergraduate Jeff Orr and communications major Ryan Platt.

Other finalists included VuseFeed (computer science majors Benjamin Liu and Josh O’Steen and journalism students Riley Beggin, Erin Fry and Daniel Levitt), which uses video snippets to drive users to more in-depth news stories on other mobile devices; Fit Geek (computer science students Olivia Apperson, Yuxiang Chen and Teddy Ivanov and journalism students Yitian Gu and Chris Mathews), which utilizes Apple Watch to show short instructional exercise videos for gym users; and Tick Task (computer science students Michael Henke and Travis Henrichs, journalism students Samantha Huston and Mark Kaman and business student Ryan Steinberg), a virtual, collaborative to-do list.

The RJI Tech Showcase also featured presentations by six teams, with two presenting an app on each of three topics, from Musser’s Mobile App Development course. The apps Furrlo and ReTreat illustrated prototypes for apps that allow users to schedule and monitor pet sitters. Odyssme and WorldTrekker provided novel ways for users to track their steps through exercise trips. And Phlock and Photo Taxi were created as new ways to organize and share photos.

The event also saw presentations from computer science instructor Joe Guilliams’ capstone course also were included in the Showcase. The app myBrew allows users to input data to narrow potential craft beer preferences. The Stock Stalk team proposed an app that will allow users to diversify their portfolios based on price movement, while the Donate the Distance team built a prototype allowing users to encourage charitable donations while motivating exercise. And the Social Agent team created an app geared toward reviewing social media posts to eliminate the likelihood of a user posting something vulgar or insensitive.

“The University of Missouri is great at interdisciplinary work,” Gillis said. “I think it really shows in these types of programs.”