UG team’s project to tackle deforestation wins prestigious Webby Award
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Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Professor Paloma Mohamed, with the Webby-winning FramePerfect Team, made up of UG staff and students, last Friday upon their return (Photo courtesy of PACE Photographer Tara Smith, MA)
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Professor Paloma Mohamed, with the Webby-winning FramePerfect Team, made up of UG staff and students, last Friday upon their return (Photo courtesy of PACE Photographer Tara Smith, MA)

“WE were happy to showcase what UG is capable of nurturing,” said Team Member Shomari Williams, who was honoured to receive the award on behalf of the four-member team.

Four young Guyanese, two current staff and two students at the University of Guyana’s Computer Sciences Department in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, have put Guyana centre-stage in the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

According to a release, the team calling themselves “FramePerfect”, has outshone 150 of their counterparts from countries around the world to win this year’s prestigious Webby Award.

The Guyanese team presented a path-breaking proposal that integrates AI, the use of drones and the Internet to combat deforestation, the release said, noting that this is a potentially game-changing application in the face of a planet striving to bring carbon emissions down. Preserving forests, jungles and trees is a key part of that equation.

The 5G For Change International Hackathon, which was hosted by Verizon in New York last week, saw 150 international teams participating in the competition.

“FramePerfect”, the Guyanese quartet whose Webby Project was to combat illegal logging in Guyana’s forest, included the Williams brothers, Shomari and Malik Williams, and Andrew Garnett and Jung Leung, two recent graduates and two students still at UG.

While attending the University of Guyana, the group came together over their shared love for computer science. Together, they founded Unity GY, a non-profit organisation that “leverages technology to solve problems and to narrow the education gap in Guyana”, the release noted.

This was the same team that developed the UG Cares application, which is deployed to place donors with persons in need from inside or outside of Guyana during the ‘COVID’ period, and especially during the very devastating floods of the past 12 months. UG Cares was also a scaled-up version of their winning application for a UNICEF Guyana-sponsored hackathon in 2019.

FramePerfect, the release noted, was invited to compete in the inaugural Webby following a similar win in the recently launched GTT hackathon. However, their journey there was far from perfect, since they had to raise funds to attend, and lived and worked on a shoestring budget, living together in a single hotel room in Manhattan for the duration of the two-week competition. Emerging as the finalist in the competition, and winning the coveted prize of US$50,000, the Webby Trophy and plenty of bragging rights is a testament not only to their immense talent, but to their grit, resilience and determination, the release said.

According to the event organisers, the Hackathon challenged teams to tackle an important issue, and solve it by using 5G and the Internet. Out of 150 submissions, only five teams were selected to pitch their ideas before a judging panel of industry leaders, from Verizon, MIT Solve, the Black Ambition Opportunity Fund, and Stagewell Global, at Verizon’s headquarters in New York City.

ILLEGAL LOGGING
The Williams brothers and other team members are passionate about tackling the issue of illegal logging in Guyana’s forests.

“We care about it because it is our planet,” Shomari Williams, The Data and AV Officer in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor (PACE Unit) at the University of Guyana was quoted as saying in an Online article published by the Webby Awards (https://www.webbyawards.com/5g-for-change-finalist-team-frame-perfect/#content_grab).

His brother, Malik Williams, an ICT engineer at UG, reasoned that more people are becoming aware of the global ramifications of deforestation, and its impact on climate change. “It’s becoming a global responsibility to get involved,” Malik said.

To tackle deforestation, the team is proposing to create a “comprehensive monitoring system that streams audio to dispatch drones to see what is happening in the forest”.

According to the Webby Awards article, “Team FramePerfect wants to attach AI-powered listening devices to trees throughout the forest, and inform drone devices when logging activity is taking place. They have a vision of using the drones to inform rangers of when illegal logging takes place.”

In an interview with UG’s Public Relations Department, Shomari said: “We are elated that we won; we’re happy because we got to showcase and defend our idea, and in the process of doing that, brought attention to The University of Guyana and Guyana as a whole.”

NERVE-WRACKING
Commenting on the competition, Shomari said: “The competition itself pushed us to bring our A-game, because we were up against people with great ideas, and the skillset to represent their ideas well. It was a wild ride; every one of our opponents was immensely talented, and had something unique to offer. After the presentation of our idea, it was nerve-wracking anticipating who would win, and we had doubts, because we did not know what the judges were looking for specifically.”

Expressing deep appreciation to all those who supported the team’s participation in the event, Shomari said: “Firstly, I have to acknowledge that my team would not be able to participate in this competition if it wasn’t for the support of the University of Guyana’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, the Philanthropy, Alumni and Civic Engagement (PACE) office, and Tactical Online Service (TOS) departments at UG and GTT.”

The UG Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paloma Mohamed has expressed the University’s absolute delight at the team’s success. She said, “This is what UG is supposed to be about; success for our students and staff in any arena. We are getting there, and this is one of those things that is testimony to this focus of student-citizen success that we have. My office supported them because we thought they deserved the exposure as young people. They still had to do their UG work while travelling. Sometimes, speaking to Shomari, who works in my office late at night, I could hear the others in the background, definitely cramped in a single room, but intellectually expansive, awake and firing on all cylinders. A special-special moment for all the young people of this country and region! We are just happy and thank these young men and all those who also helped to support them and nurture them.”

According to Shomari, who just graduated with a Master’s in Global Technology and Development under UG’s Special Faculty building programme with ASU (Arizona State University), the team members are excited that they won the competition, as they were provided with an opportunity to compete and showcase what Guyanese are capable of, and what the university is capable of nurturing.

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